Some children lost a stable home when a parent succumbed to opioid addiction. Others were forced to stay in hotels after hurricanes or fires destroyed their homes. Still others fled abuse or neglect.
More than 1.5 million public school students nationwide said they were homeless at some point during the 2017-18 school year, the most recent data available, according to a report from the National Center for Homeless Education released last week.
It was the highest number recorded in more than a dozen years, and experts said it reflected a growing problem that could negatively affect children’s academic performance and health.
“The ripple effect here is real,” said Dr. Megan Sandel, a director of the Grow Clinic at the Boston Medical Center, who said housing instability was associated with developmental delays in children and children in fair or poor health.
The center, which is based at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, issued the report on Jan. 29. Its findings came as a housing affordability crisis sweeps the nation and homelessness continues to rise.
The report compared the 2017-18 school year with the 2015-16 school year and found a 15% increase in the number of students nationwide who experienced homelessness.
The 2017-18 number was more than double the nearly 680,000 homeless students reported in 2004-05, the first school year examined by the center, its director, George Hancock, said.
The report also showed a 137% increase, to more than 102,000, in the number of students who while homeless reported staying in “unsheltered” places, such as abandoned buildings and cars.
Texas reported the largest increase over the three school years, with the number of homeless students doubling, to more than 231,000 in 2017-18. Fourteen states reported a decrease.
The report did not offer reasons for the changes but experts pointed to diverse factors that may have helped drive the totals in a troubling upward direction.
“It is complex, depending on where you are in the country,” said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a nonprofit based in Washington that supports youths who are homeless.
Severe natural disasters could drive the increases, particularly in Texas and Florida, which had a 32% rise, Duffield said.