Skip to main content
U-M Poverty Solutions Logo U-M Poverty Solutions Logo


Back to publications

A Snapshot of Homelessness and Housing Instability in Michigan Schools

Download PDF of full policy brief

By Jennifer Erb-Downward and Michael Evangelist


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 youth 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. All of these daily challenges place homeless students at a greater risk for not meeting grade-level standards and for dropping out of school. Recent research in the State of Michigan has shown homelessness among children to be a key factor predicting student achievement in both rural and urban areas, 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 policy brief 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 student’s right to an education.

Key Findings

  • Michigan has one of the largest populations of homeless students in the United States. In
    school year 2015-16, Michigan ranked sixth 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.
  • 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, from 14-25% of 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 LEAs, at least 1 out of every 10 low-income students was also homelessness during the school year.

Policy Recommendations

  • 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.

Download PDF of full policy brief