Issue at a glance: Child homelessness

September 2, 2020

Children need stability to thrive, but for the millions of children across the U.S. in elementary, middle, and high schools who face homelessness, stability often is elusive. Research shows that children without stable housing are more likely to struggle in school, and people of all ages experiencing homelessness are more likely to suffer from poor health outcomes.

Below is an overview of the numerous research projects supported by Poverty Solutions that aim to promote a better understanding of the causes and consequences of homelessness and identify potential points of intervention. 

Poverty Solutions experts on homelessness

Jennifer Erb-Downward

Jennifer Erb-Downward, senior research associate

Laura Urteaga-Fuentes, City of Detroit homelessness         policy fellow

Michael Evangelist, social work and sociology doctoral candidate

profile photo of Luke

H. Luke Shaefer, faculty director









Find more experts on homelessness at U-M

Media coverage

She’s racing to help homeless kids – but can’t reach them during pandemic, from the Detroit Free Press, May 16, 2020

A homeless family navigates a life warped by the coronavirus, from The New York Times, March 25, 2020

Rural children more than twice as likely to be homeless in Michigan, from Bridge Magazine, July 25, 2019

Losing home: Housing instability and availability in Detroit

Policy brief by Jennifer Erb-Downward and Safiya Merchant, published May 2020

Key findings: Prior to the economic impact of COVID-19, maintaining stable housing was already a significant challenge for many Detroit residents. In 2017, 13% of residents reported being evicted or losing their housing in the past year. That is the equivalent of roughly 88,382 Detroiters losing their home in just one year alone. Families with children under the age of 18 faced the greatest risk of losing their housing, and there is insufficient habitable housing to meet the needs of Detroit’s low-income residents.

Q&A with Jennifer Erb-Downward: Coronavirus pandemic requires action to protect people who are homeless

Published April 2020

Improving coordination to reduce service gaps and increase efficacy in child and family homelessness policy and programming

This Poverty Solutions 2020 faculty grant project is led by Julia Wolfson, U-M School of Public Health; Charley Willison, Harvard University Department of Health Care Policy; and Scott L. Greer, U-M School of Public Health.

Poverty Solutions finds undercount of homeless kids in Detroit, across Michigan

Release by Lauren Slagter, published November 2019

No place called home: Student homelessness prevalence and structural correlates

Working paper by Michael Evangelist and H. Luke Shaefer, published October 2019

Key findings: Close to 1 in 10 Michigan students experience homelessness over the course of their K-12 academic careers. Moreover, Black students are over three times more likely to experience literal homelessness than white students. Rental costs, forced housing moves, and the opioid epidemic are associated with student homelessness. 

New report finds childhood homelessness is rising, much higher than state data show

Release by Michigan League for Public Policy, published June 2019

Missing school, missing a home

Policy brief by Jennifer Erb-Downward and Payton Watt, published November 2018

Key findings: Close to 1 in 6 children enrolled in the state’s public and charter schools were chronically absent in the 2016-17 school year, missing 10% or more of school days. Chronically absent students are less likely to meet grade level proficiency standards and are more likely to drop out of school than their peers. Race, income, and disability status are all associated with elevated rates of chronic absenteeism, but one group stands out in particular: homeless students.

Related: Michigan students among nation’s most chronically absent, homeless students at particular risk (release by Kristen Kerecman, published December 2018)

Chronic absenteeism in Michigan by school district, 2016-17

The effect of income on housing instability and living arrangements: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit

Working paper by Natasha Pilkauskas, U-M Ford School of Public Policy, and Katherine Michelmore, Syracuse University, published September 2018, based on research supported by a Poverty Solutions 2017 faculty grant

Falling through the cracks: Graduation and dropout rates among Michigan’s homeless high school students

Policy brief by Jennifer Erb-Downward, published April 2018

Key findings: Homeless students have the lowest four-year graduation rate and highest school dropout rate of any group of Michigan students for which data is available. 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.

Related: A lesson in poverty: Schoolchildren in Michigan struggle with homelessness at high rates (release by Kristen Kerecman, published April 2018)

A snapshot of homelessness and housing instability in Michigan schools

Policy brief by Jennifer Erb-Downward and Michael Evangelist, published February 2018

Key findings: Michigan has one of the largest populations of homeless students in the United States. In the 2015-16 school year, Michigan ranked sixth among states for the most homeless students. By comparison, Michigan ranked 10th for overall student enrollment.

Child homelessness in Michigan by school district, 2015-16

Breaking the cycle: Refining the trauma-informed clinical ethnographic narrative

This Poverty Solutions 2018 community-academic grant project to better understand the traumatic life events and needs of women who are homeless is led by Laura E. Gultekin, Barbara L. Brush, and Denise Saint Arnault, U-M School of Nursing; Delphia Simmons, Coalition on Temporary Shelter; Richard Bryce, Community Health and Social Services Center; Sharon Lapides, SOS Community Services; and Kathleen Durkin, U-M Department of Psychiatry.