The Connecticut Department of Education is expecting a 25% increase of students experiencing homelessness this school year, which could mark the highest number of students without stable housing since 2017, a state official said.
The Department of Education reported that 3,979 students experienced homelessness throughout the 2021-22 school year, defining homelessness as “children and youth who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence,” including students who are “doubled-up” and living with friends or extended family, in a shelter, in a motel/hotel or in a car, park or other unsheltered location.
Initial data show the number could increase toward 5,000 students by the end of the 2022-23 academic year, according to Louis Tallarita, an education consultant with the Department of Education.
“I would probably estimate … based upon our October census data, it would be about — at least — a 25% increase over last year, ” Tallarita said at a state Board of Education meeting on Feb. 1. “That’s just my own examination of that data in terms of trends that we have seen in other years.”
The state Department of Education collects enrollment data of students experiencing homelessness twice a year, in October and June. The data is analyzed at the end of the school year, and the state submits that information to the federal government.
This school year, there were 2,470 students experiencing homelessness in October. The October data are still being refined, said Eric Scoville, the agency’s communication director, adding that “any estimates are preliminary and subject to change.”
In 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, the number of students experiencing homelessness in June was about twice the number from the previous October, state data show.
If the trend continues and Tallarita’s projections are correct, more students could be experiencing homelessness this year than any year since 2017-18, when Connecticut had an “influx of students arriving from Puerto Rico and other affected areas as a result of Hurricane Maria,” Tallarita said.
The education department reported 5,015 unhoused students that school year, an increase of 528 students, or about 12%, from the year prior.
Although this year’s data is preliminary, it falls in line with a statewide housing crisis, including how the state saw a 13% increase of people experiencing homelessness from 2021 to 2022.
Unstable housing continues to have its impacts in the classroom as well, as it’s a leading factor in chronic absenteeism and lower graduation rates.
“The population of students who are not homeless have an 89.8% four-year graduation rate, as of 2020-2021,” said Stacey Violante Cote, an attorney at the Center for Children’s Advocacy. “Students experiencing homelessness have a 66.3% graduation rate.”
Last year, 57.4% of students experiencing homelessness were out of the classroom at least 10% of the time or more. Initial data this year show a slight improvement, at 53.5%, but the percentage is still significantly higher than other high-needs student groups such as those who are English learners, eligible for free lunch or those who have a disability.
In an effort to identify more students who are experiencing homelessness, the state has launched a campaign called “No Matter What.”
The Department of Education said the initiative is “aimed at increasing identification, educating individuals on the supports available, as well as decreasing stigma which impedes self-reporting.”
“This outreach will likely increase the accuracy of counts of students experiencing homelessness and housing instability, ultimately giving us a fuller picture of the situation, which helps us distribute resources to those who need them most,” Scoville said.
Experts are hopeful that the campaign can help target unaccompanied homeless students, who are traditionally undercounted.
“In my experience, the more these students are identified, the more that they're staying in school. And the more they know their rights, the more wraparound services they get,” Violante Cote said, adding that an uptick in numbers may be a good sign that more students are coming forward, being identified and in line to receive the support they need.