U.S. (CBS) — More than 1.5 million U.S. public school students experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, according to a National Center for Homeless Education report released in January. The number is the highest recorded in over ten years and represents a population larger than the estimated total population of Dallas.
The number of students experiencing homelessness spiked by 15% between 2015 and 2018, the three most recent school years covered in the report. In the 2015-2016 school year, 1,307,656 students were reported as homeless, compared to the 1,508,265 students in 2017-2018 year, according to the report.
“The record number of children and youth experiencing homelessness nationwide is alarming,” said Barbara Duffield, the Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection, a non-profit that works to combat homelessness, in a statement. “But for many of these children and youth, public schools are their best – and often only – source of support. Schools exist in all communities, regardless of whether or not there are enough shelter beds; they are required to identify, enroll, and serve homeless children and youth; they use a definition of homelessness that captures the reality of homelessness for youth and families; and they provide the tools children and youth need to succeed.”
The homeless student population increased by 10% or more in 16 states during the three school years covered in the report. Only five states experienced an “equally large” decrease over the same time period.
The homeless student population doubled in Texas over the three year period, increasing to 231,305 for the 2017-2018 school year. Coinciding with the increase was Hurricane Harvey, which pummeled the state in August of 2017, bringing 60 inches of rain in five days and damaging or destroying 300,000 buildings and homes.
Over the course of the three school years listed in the report, the number of students living in “unsheltered situations,” which includes cars and abandoned buildings, increased by 137%. Students living in hotels or motels increased by 24% and students listed as living in “doubled-up” situations increased by 13%. The number of students in shelters decreased by 2%, however.
These numbers do not include the total number of homeless children and youth in America, as the report only includes public school students. It also doesn’t take into account students who only experience homelessness during the summer or who drop out of school, according to the report.
The increase in homelessness isn’t just a problem for students, however. The federal government reported a 2.7% increase in the nation’s homeless population, driven by a spike in California, according to an annual count that took place in January 2019.
The lack of affordable housing in California, as well as cities across the country, is often cited as a key reason for the crisis. For example, Los Angeles residents need to earn nearly $50 an hour just to afford the median monthly rent of $2,471, according to the California Housing Partnership Coalition.