Homeless children and youths have always received special attention from the public and from welfare agencies. In the terminology of the nineteenth century, children are considered "worthy" poor, because if they were homeless, they did nothing to deserve that status.
Estimates provided by the U.S. Conference of Mayors provide some indication of the proportion of children and runaway teens (unaccompanied youth) among the homeless population. (See Table 2.4.) In 2004, 40% of the homeless population in the twenty-seven surveyed cities were in family groups. The Conference of Mayors survey did not provide an estimate of the percentage of the homeless who were children in 2004, but in 1998 one-quarter of all homeless people in surveyed cities were children. Between 1989 and 1998, the percentage of children in the homeless population never dropped below 22% and rose to a high of 30% in 1993.
The Conference of Mayors also surveyed the proportion of "unaccompanied youth" in the homeless population; in 2004 these teens made up 5% of the homeless population in surveyed cities. The proportion of unaccompanied youth stayed relatively steady between 3% and 5% between 1989 and 2004, with a low of 2% in 1992 and a high of 7% in 2000. Children and unaccompanied youths made up about 29% of the homeless population throughout the period.
The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) collects estimates of homeless children from selected school district records. The data exclude infants but include some children of preschool age. USDE's tallies showed a total of 930,232 homeless children and youth, 866,899 of whom reported residence status in 2000. (See Table 2.8.) The number of children who lived in shelters (temporary or otherwise), were unsheltered, or had unknown residency was 364,391. All data were for the entire year. These data come close to 1996 estimates on the total population that was homeless during some part of the year. If children represent 29% of the homeless population based on U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates, the range of total
Homeless children and youth, 2000
SOURCE: Adapted from "Table 1. Homeless Children and Youth By Grade Level—Estimated Totals, and Numbers Enrolled and Regularly Attending School," and "Table 2. Primary Nighttime Residence of Homeless Children and Youth," in Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program, Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 2000, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, http://www.serve.org/nche/downloads/2000_congress.doc (accessed February 11, 2005)
||Enrollment and attendance
||Shelter status reported
||% of total
*Includes other temporary shelter such as motels.
homeless of all ages was somewhere between 1.2 and 3.2 million people in 2000, depending on whether 364,391 or 930,200 children are counted as homeless.
Table 2.8 also shows that of total children estimated by school districts to be homeless in 2000, only a portion were enrolled and even a smaller number attended school regularly. Among the estimated 343,340 homeless elementary students, 305,920 (89.1%) were enrolled and 271,906 (79.2%) attended regularly. Unfortunately, even when homeless children do attend school, they have less than optimal conditions for educational achievement.
An example of the poor educational achievement of homeless youths is shown in a 2002 study of unaccompanied homeless youths conducted in Monterey County, California. Twenty-one percent of sixteen-year-olds, 22% of seventeen-year-olds, 33% of eighteen-year-olds, 51% of nineteen-year-olds, 59% of twenty-year-olds, and 70% of twenty-one-year-olds were below grade level, according to its findings. Only 13% of the homeless youths in the study had a high school diploma or GED. The remaining 87% were performing below grade level.
The study showed that many homeless youth aged fourteen to twenty-one had been in the foster care system and had become homeless after emancipation. Although this study was only a countywide survey, it confirmed that children formerly in foster care are represented in higher numbers among the homeless than in the population at large. Ten percent of the unaccompanied homeless youths in the Monterey County study were at one time in the foster care system, while only 3% of the general population aged fourteen to twenty-one were ever in foster care.