Youth Homelessness 

Stable housing is foundational for thriving, especially among young people. In addition to lacking physical security and shelter, homeless youth may:[1]
  • have traumatic experiences that impact their mental health.
  • have employment or a need to move often that interferes with school attendance and academic achievement.
  • not have access to school records and other paperwork.
  • be concerned about being reported to law enforcement or local child welfare agencies.
  • not have a permanent connection with and support from a caring adult.
  • have limited access to basic needs, like food, medical care, hygiene facilities (like bathing and laundry), clothing, school supplies, transportation.
When students experience homelessness, they are more likely to be chronically absent, less likely to graduate high school,[2] and less likely to be prepared for college.[3] LGBTQ+ students[4] and students of color[5] are disproportionately more likely to be homeless than their peers. There is a mutually reinforcing relationship between disability and homelessness. People with disabilities often face many challenges that contribute to being unable to secure or afford housing[6],[7] and homelessness can negatively impact the mental and physical health and development of young people.[8]
Youth considered “homeless” can be living in shelters, living with another family, living in hotels, or unsheltered (including those who sleep in cars, campgrounds, abandoned buildings, etc.) and can be with family or on their own.[9] Rates of homelessness in San Diego County schools in the school year 2021-2022 (3.1%) were similar to those in California schools overall (2.9%).
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is a federal law requiring public schools to report the number of homeless students and some limited information about those students. The data use the racial categories of African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Filipino, Hispanic or Latino, Pacific Islander, White, Two or More Races, and Not Reported. Unfortunately, no data about LGBTQ+ students’ homelessness rates were published.
As shown in the figure below, the largest group of homeless students enrolled in San Diego County public schools in the 2021-2022 school year were classified as Hispanic or Latino (70.9% of all homeless public-school students), followed by White students (8.4%) and African American students (7.8%). Hispanic or Latino students were vastly overrepresented among the homeless student population (70.9% of homeless students compared to 48.9% of enrolled students), as were African American students (7.8% of homeless students compared to 4.1% of enrolled students). This is a stark reflection of the racial wealth gap discussed throughout this report.
These reported public-school students do not represent the entirety of homeless youth, leaving out students in private schools or who are homeschooled. Public schools are required to count homeless students they serve, but they often do so through parent self-report. Fear of being reported to local child welfare agencies may dissuade families experiencing homelessness from disclosing their housing status and may contribute to underreporting.[10] COVID-19 may have also impacted the accuracy of these data.[11] However, this metric is comparable to counties nationwide. Further, it is particularly useful for those who make decisions about public schools to identify the estimated number of homeless children they can help. The McKinney-Vento Act requires that schools make and update policies to reduce barriers to high-quality education for homeless students.[12]
In addition to the County Office of Education being tasked with supporting San Diego students experiencing homelessness in public schools, a broad range of County programs can help prevent youth homelessness. According to national studies of homelessness programs, housing programs make a difference for young people experiencing homelessness overall but Black and Hispanic youth were less likely to find housing or return to families.[13] Equitable intervention to prevent and address homelessness across racial and ethnic groups may require broad, upstream intervention in policy areas like child welfare, education, employment, affordable housing, and neighborhood investment.[14]

Data Information
Data Source: California Department of Education, Academic Year 2021-2022.
  • Persons of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity may belong to any race group. All categories except Hispanic or Latino include persons for whom race is known but ethnicity is non-Hispanic or unknown.
  1. National Center for Homeless Education. (n.d.) Supporting the Education of Unaccompanied Homeless Students. Retrieved from
  2. Department of Education. (2016). Supporting the Success of Homeless Children and Youth. Retrieved from
  3. Bishop, J. P., Gonzalez, L. C., & Rivera, E. (2020). State of Crisis. UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. Retrieved from
  4. Department of Education. (2016). Supporting the Success of Homeless Children and Youth. Retrieved from
  5. Bishop, J. P., Gonzalez, L. C., & Rivera, E. (2020). State of Crisis. UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. Retrieved from
  6. Brown, M., & McCann, E. (2021). Homelessness and people with intellectual disabilities: A systematic review of the international research evidence. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 34(2), 390–401.
  7. Beer, A., Baker, E., Lester, L., & Daniel, L. (2019). The relative risk of homelessness among persons with a disability: New methods and policy insights. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(22), Article 22.
  8. Edidin, J. P., Ganim, Z., Hunter, S. J., & Karnik, N. S. (2012). The mental and physical health of homeless youth: A literature review. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 43(3), 354–375.
  9. California Department of Education (CDE). (n.d.). Retrieved August 1, 2023, from
  10. Jones, C. (n.d.). Quick Guide: Understanding how schools serve homeless children in California. EdSource. Retrieved September 12, 2022, from
  11. National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE). (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2022, from
  12. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act As Amended by S.896 The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009. (2009). 50.
  13. Morton, M. H., Rice, E., Blondin, M., Hsu, H., & Kull, M. (2018). Toward a System Response to Ending Youth Homelessness: New Evidence to Help Communities Strengthen Coordinated Entry, Assessment, and Support for Youth. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Retrieved from
  14. Ibid.
Return to Them Page: Early Childhood Development
Updated February 7, 2024