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Blog Post · March 5, 2024

Student Homelessness Reaches 10% or Higher in Some Counties

This is the second post in a three-part series examining homeless youth in California’s K–12 public schools. The first post covered statewide trends and the demographics of homeless students. Stay tuned for the final post examining educational outcomes of homeless students.

photo - Teenage Boy Sleeping on Cot with Others in Background at Homeless Shelter

Over 4% of all California K–12 students experienced homelessness in the 2022–23 school year, but the statewide average obscures differences and issues specific to each region. When trying to identify and serve homeless youth, districts encounter obstacles that include a patchwork of living arrangements and varying concentrations of need. Unsheltered students in particular face additional challenges from those who are doubled up—or temporarily living with others—and smaller districts may be more limited in their ability to provide targeted services.

While regions with the highest enrollment—Los Angeles and the Inland Empire—have rates of student homelessness around 4%—roughly the statewide average—rates can be half that in some Bay Area counties like Sonoma (1.7%) and Contra Costa (1.9%) or more than three times the statewide average in some counties along the Central Coast, like Santa Barbara (12.3%) and Monterey (14.2%). In both of these counties, the share of migrant students experiencing homelessness is well above average—and housing for migrant workers has been a longstanding difficulty. We also see very high rates among the smallest counties in the Sierra region, with Alpine at 9.5% and Sierra at 10.3%.

The statewide share of homeless students returned to pre-pandemic levels this year, but most counties have seen slight increases since 2018–19. The largest increases were in Colusa (+3.4 percentage points), Monterey (+3.5 pp), and Sierra (+7.8 pp). The statewide average did not increase in part because the share of homelessness decreased in some of the largest counties—including San Bernardino (-1 pp), Los Angeles (-0.9 pp), and Riverside (-0.5 pp).

Most homeless youth are living temporarily doubled up. This is the largest category of homelessness among students in every county, but the distribution varies widely across the state. For example, Mono county reports that 39% of homeless students are doubled up while Santa Barbara reports 95%.  Students living doubled up face hurdles that can impact their education, but it can be difficult for districts to identify them; in addition, their families are not eligible for additional federal housing services.

Stark differences also emerge around the state regarding the share of homeless students living in temporary shelters. Statewide, 7% of homeless students are living in shelters, but shares are more than four times as high in counties like Plumas (28%), San Francisco (29%), and Placer (35%). Research in New York State suggests that students who have ever lived in shelters have lower graduation rates and higher rates of chronic absenteeism than homeless students who had other living arrangements.

When students live somewhere “not designed for use as a regular sleeping accommodation,” they are considered unsheltered. Of all homeless students in California, 4% are unsheltered. However, the share of homeless students who are unsheltered is seven times as high in counties like Alpine (29%), Colusa (28%), and Trinity (25%). In rural counties, high rates of unsheltered homeless students may be due to rising housing costs across the state and more limited shelter capacity.

Still, only 6.2% of California districts receive federal funding specifically allocated to address the needs of homeless students. Districts are chosen through a grant process, and historically the funding has been awarded only to larger districts. Smaller districts with high shares of homeless youth, and the highest shares of unsheltered youth, may be constrained in their ability to provide services to students.

The incidence—and circumstances—of student homelessness differ widely across the state, meaning that districts have diverse needs and face uneven challenges. Given that regional economies are evolving and housing affordability is declining, areas with high—and climbing—homelessness rates may demand closer attention from K–12 policymakers.


federal funding homelessness Housing K–12 Education K–12 student homelessness