Child Homelessness in Michigan


Children need stability to thrive, but for the more than 36,000 children in Michigan’s elementary, middle and high schools who face homelessness, stability is often elusive. Under federal education law all children and youths who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” are homeless. These children not only lack a stable place to call home, they are more likely to transfer schools, have long commutes, struggle with poor health, and be chronically absent than their non-homeless peers.1 All of these daily challenges place homeless students at a greater risk for not meeting grade-level standards and for dropping out of school.2

Recent research here in the State of Michigan has shown homelessness among children to be a key factor predicting student achievement in both rural and urban areas,3 yet little attention has been given, thus far, to understanding where homeless students in Michigan attend school and how their needs might differ depending on their geographic location.

This map seeks to fill that gap so that policymakers and local stakeholders can begin to think about the impact of homelessness in their area and to identify resources to support some of the State’s most vulnerable children. Data for this brief comes from school year 2015-16 administrative records collected by every school under the mandate of the Federal McKinney-Vento Act, a law which guarantees homeless students’ right to an education.4

Key Findings

  • Michigan has one of the largest populations of homeless students in the United States. In school year 2015-16, Michigan ranked 6th among states for the most homeless students. By comparison, Michigan ranked 10th for overall student enrollment.
  • Homelessness in Michigan is a Statewide issue impacting children in rural, suburban and urban areas. Ninety-four percent of Michigan’s 540 Local Education Authorities (LEAs) reported students struggling with homelessness and housing instability in their area.5
  • While the total number of students reported as homeless is higher in Michigan’s more urban areas, some of the highest rates of homelessness among students were found in the state’s smallest school districts. In 12 school districts between one out of every seven and one out of every four students experienced homelessness during the school year. These school districts all served fewer than 1,400 students.
  • A significant proportion of low-income students in Michigan also struggle with homelessness and housing instability.6 In over 40% of Michigan’s school districts, at least one out of every ten low-income students was also homelessness during the school year.
  • Data suggest that a significant undercount of homeless students is occurring in Detroit. Despite serving close to four times more students overall than Kalamazoo Public School District and having a poverty rate that was 14 percentage points higher, Detroit Public Schools Community District identified roughly 300 fewer homeless students in its schools. This is an important issue for further investigation.

Download the Policy Brief (PDF)

Data notes:

Data Sources: All data are for SY 2015-16 and come from the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education. Charter schools are not included in the analysis.

Grey Areas on the Map: Some school districts on the map are shaded grey and do not have a pop-up window when they are clicked. These are all districts for which data was either not reported, or where total student enrollment was less than 30.

Homeless Students: The McKinney-Vento Act defines homeless children and youths as those who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” This includes children and youths who due to loss of housing or economic hardship are living in hotels, motels, trailer parks, camping grounds, shared housing, emergency or transitional shelters or any place not meant for human habitation (such as cars, public spaces or abandoned buildings).

Low-Income Students: Low-Income students are defined as students who are eligible for free lunch. Homeless students are included in this group as they are categorically eligible for free lunch.


1 Megan Sandel et al.“Unstable Housing and Caregiver and Child Health in Renter Families,” Pediatrics 141, no. 2 (2018): 1-10. ; Institute for Children Poverty and Homelessness. “The Atlas of Student Homelessness in New York City 2016,” (2016): 1-155. (accessed January 30, 2018).
2 Institute for Children Poverty and Homelessness. “The Atlas of Student Homelessness in New York City 2016,” (2016): 1-155. (accessed January 30, 2018).
3 Joshua Cowen. “Who Are the Homeless? Student Mobility and Achievement in Michigan 2010–2013,” Education Researcher (2017): 33-43.
4 The National Center for Homeless Education. “The McKinney-Vento Definition of Homeless,” (accessed January 29, 2018).
5 Michigan Department of Education. "Number of Public School Districts (ISDs, LEAs, and PSAs) in Michigan,”,4615,7-140- 6605-36877–,00.html (accessed January 24, 2018).
6 The United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services. “National School Lunch Program: Program Fact Sheet,” (accessed February 16, 2018).