Black Students Overrepresented among LA County Homeless

Analysis by Black Male Institute at UCLA underscores impact of homelessness on graduation rates for black students

Earl Edwards, UCLA

The number of black homeless students in Los Angeles County has increased significantly and black students are overrepresented among the homeless student population, according to a new analysis by researchers at the Black Male Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

Young, Black, & Houseless: An Analysis of LA County Black Homeless Student Population, finds that the number of black homeless students has increased by more than 40 percent since 2014-15. One-third of black students experiencing homelessness in California reside in Los Angeles County. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the number of black homeless students has increased by more than 150 percent. The analysis also finds that black students are the only racial/ethnic group that disproportionately experiences homelessness. While black students make up about 7.5 percent of student enrollment in Los Angeles County, they account for 10% of homeless students.

“Homelessness has unfortunately increased among all student groups, but there has been little emphasis on the ways in which homelessness disproportionately impacts black K-12 students,” says Earl Edwards, a doctoral student at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies who led the research. “Black children in L.A. County schools are overrepresented in the homeless population by 35 percent.”

The research also underscores the impact of homelessness on graduation rates for black students.  The graduation rate of black students experiencing homelessness is 20 percentage points below the average for Los Angeles County. Black students experiencing homelessness represent 14% of all black students who do not complete high school on time. In the 2017-2018 school year just over one in 2 (55%) of black boys experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County graduated from high school on time.

“The failure to obtain a high school diploma has significant implications for students,” Edwards says. “Research has shown that youth without a high school diploma are more than 300 times more likely to experience homelessness later in life than high school graduates. High school graduation is one of the most important buffers against adult homelessness.

“The increase in homelessness among black youth in Los Angeles County and its impact on graduation rates for black students is putting a disproportionate number of black youth who are already houseless (either by themselves or with their families) on a pathway to adult homelessness,” adds Tyrone Howard, a professor of Education at UCLA and the Director of the Black Male Institute. “The development of county and school level interventions that support black youth experiencing homelessness to graduate high school is imperative.”

One key step the researchers suggest it to increase funding and improve coordination with The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Established in 1987, the Act is federal legislation designed to support the student homeless population. Unlike the definition provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act’s definition includes children from families who are doubling up in homes with relatives or other adults, as well as those living in shelters, motels, or cars. The mismatch in federal definitions of homelessness means the city and county may not consider some students as homeless. While Los Angeles County receives hundreds of millions of tax dollars annually to combat homelessness through Measure H, many students experiencing homelessness do not directly benefit from these funds. The Act also is underfunded and disregards the racial disparities within the homeless student population. By failing to disaggregate student homeless data by race, gender, and other salient identities, schools are unable to identify and address disparity within the homeless student population

The researchers recommend that policymakers redefine youth homelessness in accordance with the McKinney-Vento Act and that all faculty and staff in school districts should be trained and versed on the Act. They are in the best position to identify students experiencing homelessness, and play the most critical role in helping students graduate.

The researchers also recommend that homeless student data should be disaggregated by race, gender, and other salient identities in order to examine and address disparities. Targeted interventions should be designed to ensure that black students are socially, emotionally, and academically prepared to graduate high school, pass their A-G courses, and graduate being college and career ready. Funding should also be provided for homeless prevention programming and the County needs to increase wraparound services that coordinate with school districts liaisons.

Edwards, who was homeless himself as a youth, says that “while graduating high school is a not silver bullet to avoiding homelessness, it does put black youth already experiencing homelessness on a better track to avoid homelessness later on in life. We need to do more. This is not an issue of individual student’s, this is a structural and institutional problem. Schools must address the alarmingly low graduation rate of black youth experiencing homelessness, and the County must do their part as well. If our public agencies are able to work collectively, we can ensure that all of our most vulnerable youth thrive.”