Children experiencing homelessness are an invisible population; they are hidden in plain sight. The national conversation around homelessness is focused on the people we see, mostly single adults who are very visible in urban areas. Not visible to most people are the children, youth, and families. The conversation has not been focused on the housing and education of homeless children and youth. Until it is, the cycle of poverty and homelessness will continue.
While the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Point in Time count identifies 722 Orange County children experiencing homelessness in 2022, that number does not align with the staggering count of 23,246 identified by the twenty-eight school districts in Orange County who identify children experiencing homelessness based on the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. While the number of homeless students identified by schools is surprisingly high, it does not capture the true, even higher number of homeless students, as it does not capture those that remain unidentified.
Local Educational Agency (LEA) Liaisons, all of whom face huge challenges in facilitating academic success for homeless students in their school districts, generally agree that the lack of recognition of eligibility for housing for the children they support was the greatest challenge for students to reach that success. The County of Orange has several housing options available for the homeless; however, the Grand Jury learned from a number of tours and interviews that most are not available to families. Orange County must invest in the future through the development of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for families with children.
Children who are raised in homelessness have higher absenteeism rates, lower literacy rates, and a more limited vocabulary, with nearly 70% unable to meet state standards on state-mandated tests. In Orange County, less than 35% of all homeless students in public schools Met or Exceeded State Standards in English Language Arts, less than 25% Met or Exceeded State Standards in math, and they graduate at lower rates than average. This limits their opportunities for stable jobs, increasing the risk of continuing housing insecurity in adulthood and maintaining the ongoing cycle of homelessness.
Despite the valiant efforts and dedication of Liaisons who face huge challenges, the facts gathered from the School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs) make it clear that public schools are failing far too often in their efforts to educate children experiencing homelessness. The Orange County Grand Jury strongly recommends that the Orange County Department of Education and the twenty-eight public school districts, in conjunction with the County of Orange, prioritize the unique needs of children experiencing homelessness with the goal being a measurable improvement in their academic performance.
Full Report can be found here: https://www.ocgrandjury.org/pdfs/2022_2023_GJreport/ABC_of_Educating_Homeless_Children.pdf