Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness

The Child Trends databank of indicators related to child and youth well-being is no longer being updated so that we can focus on data tools and products core to the work of policymakers and other stakeholders, such as:

Additionally, we have a forthcoming interactive tool on childhood poverty we expect to release in late 2021.

Trends in homelessness among children and youth

Data reported here come from two primary sources: school districts, which are required to report on the number of homeless students they serve; and censuses of federally-funded homeless shelters and temporary housing programs, conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At the beginning of school year 2016-17, there were 1.4 million students who were homeless. This is more than twice the number of students who were homeless in school year 2004-05 (590,000). Some of this increase may be due to improved reporting, since in 2004-05, only 65 percent of school districts reported data (compared to 99 percent in 2016-17).[1] However, there is good reason to believe that a least some of the increase reflects real growth in this population; in school year 2007-08, with 91 percent of school districts reporting, there were only 795,000 students who were homeless. A smaller peak in 2005 may be due to families displaced by the unusually destructive hurricane season in late summer/early fall of that year (Appendix 1).[2]

Differences by living situation

In school year 2016-17, the majority (75 percent) of students experiencing homelessness were “doubling up” with other families. One-sixth (15 percent) were staying in shelters, 7 percent were in hotels or motels, and 4 percent were “unsheltered,” meaning that they were living outside, in abandoned buildings, in cars, or in other places not meant for human habitation (Appendix 1).

Most of the increase in homelessness since the 2006-07 school year has been in the number of students who are “doubled up.” Since then, that number increased by 150 percent, from 421,000 to more than a million “doubled-up” students, and the proportion rose from 61 to 75 percent of all students experiencing homelessness. Similarly, the number of students living in hotels or motels increased by 82 percent, and those living in shelters increased by 28 percent. The number of unsheltered homeless students fell slightly, from 54 to 53 thousand (Appendix 1).

Differences by age

Children in federally funded shelters are disproportionately young. During the school year of 2016-17, 10 percent of all children experiencing homelessness who spent time in shelters were under the age of 1, 35 percent ages 1 to 5, 34 percent ages 6 to 12, and 22 percent ages 13 to 17. Among unaccompanied youth (that is, youth unaccompanied by an adult), a large majority (87 percent) were ages 13 to 17. However, 10 percent were ages 6 to 12, and another 2 percent were younger than age 6 (Appendix 2).

Differences by gender

In 2017, there were roughly equal numbers of male and female children in shelters. Among unaccompanied youth in shelters, 52 percent were female. While this is consistent with the pattern since 2009, before then males were the majority of unaccompanied youth (Appendix 2).

State and local estimates

The U.S. Department of Education provides estimates of the number of students experiencing homelessness enrolled in local education agencies with and without McKinney-Vento Subgrants in its ED Data Express data tool, by subgroup and state, available at

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has published data from 2007 to 2017 for each state and for 461 sub-state geographies called “continuum of care” (CoCs) units, used to award federal homelessness funding. More information is available at

Head Start’s Program Information Report includes the number of children experiencing homelessness in Early Head Start and Head Start:

Data & appendices

Data sources

Raw data source

McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, Title X, of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.

Homeless Management Information Systems.



Students experiencing homelessness include those who meet the definition set out by McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act definition (amended by ESSA in 2015):

  • Children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; or are abandoned in hospitals
  • Children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings
  • Children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings

Note: Migratory children qualify as homeless if the children are living in circumstances described above.

Children and youth experiencing homelessness include those who meet the definition set out in the HEARTH act of 2009:

  • Someone who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence
  • Someone who has as a primary nighttime residence a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground
  • Someone living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements
  • Someone who resided in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation and who is exiting an institution where he or she temporarily resided
  • Someone who will imminently lose their housing, including housing they own, rent, or live in without paying rent; housing they are sharing with others; and rooms in hotels or motels; and who has no subsequent residence identified, and lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing
  • A family that has experienced a long-term period without living independently in permanent housing, has experienced persistent instability as measured by frequent moves over such period, and can be expected to continue in such status for an extended period of time because of chronic disabilities, chronic physical health or mental health conditions, substance addiction, histories of domestic violence or childhood abuse, the presence of a child or youth with a disability, or multiple barriers to employment

The sheltered homeless are those who have used a federally supported housing shelter in the past 12 months.

Estimates for students experiencing homelessness also include those who are “doubled up,” meaning that they do not have a permanent housing situation and instead stay with extended family members, friends, or someone else.


[1] U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). The condition of education: Homeless children and youth in public schools. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

[2] American Institutes for Research, National Center on Family Homelessness. (2011). America’s youngest outcasts 2010: State report card on child homelessness. Retrieved from


Child Trends. (2019). Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness. Retrieved from