More than 120,000 Students Are Homeless in LA County

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August 1, 2017 · Posted in Commentary 

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Leslie Evans

The number seems shocking. Even impossible. The total homeless in LA County from the January 2017 official count only came to 57,000. But the number is real and actually understates the total, as it does not include UCLA, USC, or the Claremont colleges.

The disparity is because the county’s K-12 system, the Community College District, and the Cal State University system have a more inclusive definition of homelessness. The official counts by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority are run under the federal HUD rules, which include only people living in a homeless shelter, or a place not intended for human habitation. The school districts include students with no permanent address, sleeping on someone’s couch or in motel or garage.

A widely reported study on homelessness at the Los Angeles County community colleges, released June 29, found that 43,700, or 19% of the total enrollment, had been homeless within the previous 12 months. The percentages were higher for Black and Native American students (30%), youth who had been in foster care, and for veterans. The study was conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s HOPE lab in October 2016.

The HOPE study covered 70 educational institutions in 24 states. California at 19% had the highest homeless, but the national average was still 14%.

In January 2017, the county’s public and charter schools reported that there were 63,000 homeless K-12 students for the 2015-2016 school year. This number is conceded to be understated, as youths living alone attending high school and even middle school commonly hide their homeless status to avoid being forced into the foster care system or returned to violent or abusive homes.

California statewide has a disproportionately large share of homeless students compared to the rest of the country. The California Homeless Youth Project reported that nearly 270,000 students had been homeless for part of the previous school year, “representing 21 percent of the homeless students in the United States.” (California’s Homeless Students: A Growing Population, September 2014.)

The LA Times reported on June 20, 2016, that 10% of the California State University system students were homeless. For the 5 CSU campuses that are in Los Angeles County – Cal State Los Angeles, Long Beach, Dominguez Hills, Northridge, and Pomona – the current enrollment is 142,954. That gives us about 14,300 homeless.

So, our known totals are 63,000 for K-12, 43,700 for community colleges, and 14,300 for Cal State in LA County, with a total of 121,000, without knowing anything about USC, UCLA, or other four-year institutions.

Most of the media coverage on LA student homelessness adds that 50% or more have inadequate food. While this homelessness is real enough, most do not qualify under the stricter HUD standard for any federal assistance. And most do not even qualify for food stamps. Under the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), undergraduates without children must work 20 hours a week to qualify.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley told the New York Times last April, “This is not just happening in urban poor communities. It affects kids from working-class families across the state, in rural communities and in communities of color. . . . and formerly middle-class families.”

Fewer than 20% of homeless students succeed in graduating from high school, and only 2% go on to complete any kind of a college degree.

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