One out of every five K-12 students nationally who experienced homelessness in the 2012-2013 school year lived in California, according to a study (pdf) by the California Homeless Youth Project. Those 270,000 students represent a 22.3% increase from just two years before.
The 4% rate of homeless public school students in California is twice the national average and growing. “In the 2012-2013 school year, California’s schools reported 20,000 more homeless students than in the previous school year (an increase of 8%),” the report said.
Homelessness occurred at every grade level. Around 52% were in kindergarten through 5th-grade, 21% were in grades 6-8 and 27% were in grades 9-12. Despite the specific numbers offered in the report, its authors admitted that counting homeless children is far from exact. Older kids who are smart enough to know they could end up in the custody of child welfare authorities, law enforcement or an unsafe family situation may be reluctant to be forthcoming about their status.
Homeless kids are spread all over the state, from big urban areas and their suburbs to sparsely-populated rural communities. Rural Trinity County had the highest proportion of homeless students (13.3%), followed by Santa Barbara County (10.9%), Sierra County (9.4%), Lake County (8.4%) and San Bernardino County (8.1%).
In the 2005-2006 school year, 40% of California schools reported zero homeless students. That number plummeted to 15% by 2011-12. Part of that increase in known homelessness is probably because of higher scrutiny of the issue and better reporting methods. But the economic downturn of the 2007-09 recession was considered a major contributing factor.
Not surprisingly, California has failed to receive federal support for the problem in a proportional fashion. The report noted that despite having 21% of the nation’s homeless students, it receives about 11% of federal funds from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act.
The report used numbers compiled by kidsdata.org, a program of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health. They probably understate the problem of homeless children because they do not include kids who are not in school or whose schools aren’t aware they have experienced homelessness during the year.