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Report: Michigan has one of the largest populations of homeless students in US

Michigan ranked 6th among states for the most homeless students

A new report finds a troubling trend of student homelessness in Michigan's public schools.

The University of Michigan released a study this week showing more than 36,000 children in Michigan public schools are facing homelessness and/or housing insecurity.

According to a University of Michigan analysis, new data released by Michigan’s Department of Education shows dramatic disparities in educational outcomes for students experiencing homelessness. Under federal education law, all children who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” are homeless.

“These numbers tell us that students experiencing homelessness in Michigan are at a much greater risk for not finishing high school than their peers,” said Jennifer Erb-Downward, senior research associate with U-M’s Poverty Solutions initiative.

Some of her key findings include: 

  • Students experiencing homelessness have the lowest four-year graduation rate and highest high school dropout rate of any group examined in Michigan.
  • Dropout rates for Michigan’s homeless students are increasing despite downward trends among other groups. 
  • Homeless high school students are a particularly vulnerable group.

The issue is not just a Metro Detroit issue - it's a state issue. Over 70 percent of homeless students were enrolled in schools located outside of Southeast Michigan – the state’s most populous region.

Here are the districts reporting the most homeless students:

  • Kalamazoo Public Schools - 904
  • Lansing Public Schools - 644
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools - 632
  • Detroit City Schools - 605
  • Traverse City Public Schools - 484
  • Flint City Schools - 426
  • Ann Arbor Public Schools - 368
  • Pontiac City Schools - 362
  • Port Huron Area Schools - 354
  • Berrien Springs Schools - 342 

While the total number of homeless students was larger in Michigan’s urban areas, the districts with the largest proportion of homeless students were primarily located in small towns and rural areas.

Here are the districts with the highest rate of student homelessness:

  • Baldwin Community Schools - 25.5 percent
  • Marion Public Schools - 19 percent
  • Watersmeet Township Schools - 28.9 percent
  • Hart Public Schools - 17.8 percent
  • White Cloud Public Schools - 17.8 percent
  • Fairview Area Public Schools - 16.4 percent
  • Suttons Bay Public Schools - 16.1 percent
  • Wolverines Community Schools - 15.8 percent
  • Morrice Area Schools - 15.1 percent
  • Carson City-Crystal Area Schools - 14.8 percent

According to the report, on average, roughly 3 percent of Michigan students were homeless, but by school district this ranged from 0 percent to 25 percent, or one out of every four students enrolled. In 50 school districts (10 percent), at least one out of every ten students enrolled experienced homelessness during the school year. In 12 school districts, one out of every seven or more students enrolled struggled with homelessness and housing instability during the school year

Student poverty also high

The report not only details student homelessness, but also student poverty and low-income students.

Over 490,000 public school children (37 percent) were identified as low-income, and therefore eligible for free lunch. On average, 7 percent of all low-income school age children also struggled with homelessness.

Overall, in 40 percent of Michigan’s Local Education Agencies at least 1 out of every 10 low-income students was simultaneously struggling with housing instability and homelessness.

Here are the districts with the highest rate of low-income student homelessness:

  • Northport Public Schools - 54 percent
  • Suttons Bay Schools - 38 percent
  • Mendon Community Schools - 37 percent
  • Athens Area Schools - 35 percent
  • Morrice Area Schools - 34 percent
  • Watersmeet Township - 34 percent
  • Carson City-Crystal Schools - 34 percent
  • Glen Lake Community Schools - 34 percent
  • Hart Public Schools - 33 percent
  • Mid Peninsula Schools - 33 percent

What are the student homeless rates in Metro Detroit?

Although schools in Metro Detroit didn't rank in the highest in the state, they are still dealing with the troubling trend.

Here are some numbers from Metro Detroit districts:

  • Monroe Public Schools - 5 percent student homelessness rate
  • Ypsilanti Public Schools - 9 percent
  • Dundee Public Schools - 6 percent
  • Taylor Public Schools - 4 percent
  • Livonia Public Schools - 1 percent
  • Garden City Public Schools - 2 percent
  • Waterford Public Schools - 2 percent
  • Van Dyke Public Schools - 4 percent
  • Oak Park Public Schools - 4 percent
  • Southfield Public Schools - 3 percent
  • Mount Clemens Schools - 4 percent
  • New Haven Public Schools - 3 percent
  • L'Anse Creuse Public Schools - 2 percent
  • River Rouge Public Schools - 2 percent
  • South Redford Schools - 3 percent
  • Farmington Public Schools - 2 percent
  • Romulus Community Schools - 3 percent
  • Airport Community Schools - 6 percent
  • Lincoln Consolidated Schools - 6 percent
  • Huron School District - 2 percent

You can find your district using this interactive map provided by the University of Michigan:

Graduation rates among Michigan's homeless high schoolers

According to the report, more than 3,500 high school students in the class of 2017 were homeless in Michigan. While representing a small proportion of the entire student body (3 percent ), these students were disproportionately likely to face negative educational outcomes and accounted for almost 7 percent of all students who dropped out of high school.

Here are some key findings on graduation rates and homeless Michigan high schoolers:

  • Homeless students have the lowest four-year graduation rate of any group in Michigan for which data was available. Just over half (55 percent) of homeless high school students in Michigan graduated in four years. This rate was significantly lower than both the rate for economically disadvantaged students (68 percent) and the average graduation rate for the state as a whole (80 percent).
  • Homeless students have the highest high school dropout rate of any group in Michigan. One in five homeless students dropped out of high school (20 percent), a rate six percentage points higher than that of economically disadvantaged students (14 percent) and 11 percentage points higher than the statewide average of 9 percent.
  • Dropout rates for homeless students in Michigan are increasing despite downward trends among other groups. While dropout rates for both economically disadvantaged student and all students progressively declined by two percentage points from school year 2012-13 to 2016-17, the dropout rate for homeless students increased by roughly one and a half percentage points over the same time period.
  • The newly released Michigan education data for graduation and dropout rates reveal homeless high school students to be a uniquely vulnerable group that has previously gone unrecognized. The educational outcomes of homeless high school students are distinct from their economically disadvantaged peers who are not homeless. Identifying the unique needs of these students is critical to improving their high school outcomes.

According to the report, only 55 percent of homeless high school students in Michigan graduated in four years. This rate was 13 percentage points lower than the rate for economically disadvantaged students and 25 percentage points lower than the average graduation rate for the state as a whole. 

So, what's the solution?

The University of Michigan report makes four recommendations to help curb this troubling trend. Here they are:

  • Increase the accessibility of data on homelessness locally. Access to existing data on homelessness at the local level (city, county, and congressional district) is critical to enabling policymakers, communities and schools to develop programs and policies that meet the needs of children and families struggling with homelessness and housing instability.
  • Identify and Address Potential Undercounts of Homeless Students in Michigan. Analysis of student homelessness by school district suggest that in some districts homeless students are not being effectively identified. The identification of all students experiencing homelessness is a critical first step to guaranteeing every student’s rights to an education and to connecting vulnerable children and youth to needed support services.
  • Build Connections Between Policymakers in Other Domains. More awareness is needed across agencies and sectors of government about the impact that homelessness and housing instability has not only on children’s education, but also on their health and overall welfare. To effectively address homelessness in the state, stronger collaboration across governmental agencies overseeing housing, transportation, health, child welfare, nutrition, workforce development, and education is necessary.
  • Support the Development of Community Partnerships with Local Schools. Homelessness and housing instability impact educational outcomes in ways that schools are not always well equipped to address. Developing partnerships to meet the additional support needs of children and families struggling with housing instability could help to fill these gaps.

You can read the full report on student homelessness in Michigan below: 


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