Student homelessness in Florida has almost tripled in the last decade to about 96,000 in the 2017-18 school year.
Those experiencing homelessness score lower on statewide assessments and have a lower high school graduation rate compared to students who are economically disadvantaged but have a place to live.
According to a report by Miami Homes for All and the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida, the lack of affordable housing is one of the main causes of student homelessness.
While the number of extremely low-income households in Florida has increased by 36% over the last two decades, available and affordable units have decreased by 11%, resulting in multiple families living in one home.
The report defines "homelessness" as:
- Couch surfing
- Living in motels, hotels, FEMA trailers, or camp grounds
- Living in emergency shelters
- Living in transitional housing
- Living abandoned in hospitals
- Staying in cars, parks, public spaces, vacant buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or other places not designed for sleeping
The report identified the reduction in affordable housing as the root cause for student homelessness, but also concluded catastrophic hurricanes are having a major effect.
Hurricane Maria caused almost 12,000 homeless students to move from Puerto Rico to Florida, including over 1,700 who ended up in the Tampa Bay area. That's around 60% of the total number of students in Florida that experienced homelessness because of hurricanes last school year.
“When people's housing became unlivable, either in Florida or in Puerto Rico, there was a lot of internal movement, there was a lot of displacement,” said Anne Ray, manager of the Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse at the Shimberg Center.
“And those students are identified as homeless, when they're living temporarily outside of a stable housing situation.”
The report lists possible solutions to this growing issue, such as eliminating legal barriers for minors who need long-term housing, youth-centered homeless counts, and getting young people to work on "coordinated entry systems" that register newly homeless people.
“A coordinated entry system makes sure that individuals and families don't get lost in the shuffle and that they get the housing assistance that's appropriate to their situation,” Ray said.
She emphasized that youth are generally undercounted by these systems, so it’s important to make sure they are better focused on young people and that students have peers they can talk to.
“People who have lived through that experience and come out the other side are really in a position to advise the people who are running homelessness and housing systems, but also to connect directly with other young people,” Ray said.
As these programs are developed, the Shimberg Center continues to focus on the larger issue of affordable housing.
The Center points to how the Florida Legislature continues to sweep funds from the William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act into the general revenue budget for purposes other than what it's designed for - affordable housing.
Center officials say, that has to stop.
“Florida could have the largest state affordable housing trust fund in the country,” Ray said. “When those resources aren't available, then we have an even larger shortage of affordable housing for working families.”