Recent U.S. Department of Education data show that there were 1, 360, 747 homeless public school students identified in the 2013-2014 school year, an 8 percent increase from the previous school year, and double the number of homeless students identified before the recession.

Some states; such as Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wyoming; saw an over 20 percent increases from the previous school year.

These numbers do not even capture all of the homeless children in the United States. These numbers do not include homeless infants, or other young children not enrolled in public preschool programs such as Head Start. Homeless children and youth who are no longer attending public school are also not captured, as well as those who are in school but still not identified by school districts due to lack of capacity.

Many of these students are invisible in our communities. They are not living in shelters, or on the street, but in run-down motels, or temporarily with others because they have nowhere else to go. This is because many communities lack family or youth shelters, or shelters are full.

These students face serious health and safety threats in these situations, most recently illustrated by a recent article in the LA Times about children living in motels in San Bernardino County and the horrific conditions they face in these motels.

Some of these students are living with their families, but many – over 90,000 – are living on their own. These unaccompanied youth face particular safety threats, and experience high risk of physical and sexual abuse and trafficking.

Despite the continuing increase in numbers and the vulnerability of these students, there is often a lack of assistance available for these students. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program is a powerful resource for homeless students, entitling legal protections and educational supports to homeless students. Yet it is severely underfunded and therefore not always uniformly implemented by school districts. For more information on this program, and recent efforts to improve it, look for an upcoming blog by my colleague Elliott Gluck.

Beyond educational assistance, these students also need access to homeless assistance services that will help them transition to stable housing. Yet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) often does not recognize these invisible homeless students – those living with others or in run-down motels – as homeless and requires extensive documentation and record-keeping requirements before considering many of these students eligible for their homeless assistance programs.

The bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 576/S. 256) was reintroduced in January to address these barriers faced by many homeless families and youth in accessing services. Led by Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH-15), Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-IA-2), Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL-13) and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rob Portman (R-OH), it would amend HUD’s definition of homelessness to include children and youth verified as homeless through HUD’s homeless assistance programs and other federal programs such as the McKinney Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program.

This would restore decision-making to local communities by allowing, but not requiring, local service providers to prioritize homeless families and unaccompanied youth based on the characteristics and needs of the homeless population in their community.

Over 400 organizations support the Homeless Children and Youth Act. To add your support and take action, visit

Homeless children are also going back to school this fall: | On record number of homeless students v/ @Campaign4Kids
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Want to learn more? First Focus Campaign for Children is a bipartisan organization advocating to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on housing and homelessness.

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