UCLA study reports staggering rise in student homelessness in California

UCLA study reports staggering rise in student homelessness, including in Contra Costa
Photo credited to UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools.

By Kathy Chouteau

Almost 270,000 K-12 students in California experienced homelessness during the 2018-2019 academic year, an increase of nearly 50 percent in the past decade, according to new report from the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools, which analyzed data from the California Department of Education.

In Contra Costa, the number of students experiencing homelessness nearly doubled over the last two academic years, from 1,705 in 2017-18, which was about .95 percent of the 178,060 total enrolled students in the county, to 3,062 in 2018-19, or about 1.7 percent of 175,040 enrolled, the study showed.

The current local and statewide numbers are likely higher give the COVID-19 pandemic, the report, titled State of Crisis, Dismantling of Student Homelessness in California, states.

“Dodger Stadium is empty these days, but can hold some 56,000 people for a big game. California could fill the stadium with students experiencing homelessness almost five times and still probably need to use the parking lot for overflow,” said Joseph Bishop, director of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools and the report’s lead author.

“But our students are not in Dodger Stadium. We are talking about young people who may be sleeping on the streets, in cars or in shelters. This is a crisis that deserves immediate action,” he added.

Students considered to be facing homelessness include youths sharing housing with other persons due to loss of housing or economic hardship, those living in shelters, motels, hotels, and trailer parks or in cars, parks and abandoned buildings.

Students struggling with homelessness in California are disproportionately Latinx and Black, according to the report, with Latinx accounting for 7 in 10 of those students. Although Black students make up 5 percent of the student population, they account for 9 percent of students facing homelessness.

Out of the 3,062 students experiencing homelessness in Contra Costa County last academic year, 47 percent are Latinx, while 29 percent are Black, the report states. The rate of suspensions for all students facing homelessness in the county was 13.1 percent, more than double the overall county suspension rate. Slightly more than 40 percent of students facing homelessness in the county were deemed chronically absent, and 71.5 percent graduated with a diploma, about 18 percent lower than the county’s overall diploma recipient rate.

While just over half of all Contra Costa County graduating students last academic year met UC or CSU requirements, only 19.9 percent of students facing homelessness met them, the data show.

Based on interviews with more than 150 students, educators and homeless liaisons, the report identifies a pressing need for greater capacity and dedicated funding to address the needs of homeless students. The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (MVA) is intended to support the educational success of students experiencing homelessness. However, only 106 of 1,037 school districts (9 percent) in California received federal funding from MVA to meet the mandates of the law.

On the state level, California currently has no dedicated funding stream to support students experiencing homelessness, even as some school districts are prioritizing the needs of these students via the Local Control Funding Formula planning process, or through the state’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).

“Even in these tense and difficult times, the large and growing number of students experiencing homelessness in our state is a crisis that should shock all of us,” said Tyrone Howard, faculty director of the Center for the Transformation of Schools. 

“We hope this report will create greater awareness of student homelessness, the racial disparities that exist with students experiencing homelessness, and provide policymakers with meaningful insight and information. Aggressive, immediate and effective action is needed by leaders at every level of government and in our community to dismantle this unacceptable crisis.”

Specific recommendations are included in the report regarding school district, city and county, state and federal policies. View the report and related info here.