Student homelessness continues to increase in King County, but rates vary considerably across school districts.
In the 2016-17 school year, there were 8,938 students experiencing homelessness in King County. Countywide, compared to the 2007-08 school year, there has been a 2.5-fold increase in the number of students experiencing homelessness.
Students who experienced homelessness at any time during the school year are counted as “homeless” for this indicator. Students can slip in and out of homelessness one or more times during the school year, but experiencing housing insecurity at any time can have long-term impacts on a student’s ability to thrive and succeed.
School District Disparities
The county average masks large differences among school districts. In the 2016-2017 school year:
Tukwila: 1 in 8 students (13%) experienced homelessness
Seattle: 1 in 13 students (8%) experienced homelessness
Highline: 1 in 16 students (6%) experienced homelessness
Mercer Island, Issaquah, Northshore and Tahoma: fewer than 1 in 100 students experienced homelessness
Seattle has the highest number of students experiencing homelessness (4,280, or 8% of the Seattle student population), accounting for nearly half of the homeless students in King County School districts. With a much smaller student body than Seattle, Tukwila has a lower number of students experiencing homelessness, but proportionally, still has the highest rate of student homelessness in King County (375 students, 13% of Tukwila students). Seattle and the three school districts on its southern boundary—Tukwila, Renton and Highline—are a high-risk area, with student homelessness rates higher than the county average in 2016-17.
Over the last decade, both the number and rate of students experiencing homelessness have increased in most King County school districts, coinciding with the Great Recession and rising housing costs in more recent years. Districts across the county, including Auburn, Bellevue, Federal Way, Highline, Lake Washington, Kent, Renton, Shoreline, Seattle and Tukwila have seen substantial increases in student homelessness since 2007. Some districts, notably Tukwila (with the highest percentage of students experiencing homelessness), along with Shoreline and Bellevue, have seen the increase in their rates of student homelessness taper off, while other districts such as Auburn and Federal Way have experienced more recent increases despite previously flat or declining rates.
In the 2016-2017 school year, 81% of students experiencing homelessness in King County were students of color, yet students of color represent only 55% of the overall student population. Black, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students are overrepresented among those experiencing homelessness and reflect the disproportionate impact of displacement, housing insecurity and poverty on communities of color in King County.
The majority of King County’s homeless students are “doubled up,” temporarily living with friends and/or extended family because their own family has lost housing. A recent study by Schoolhouse Washington found that students experiencing homelessness in doubled up living situations have similarly poor academic outcomes as students living in shelters, hotels/motels and unsheltered.
The second most common accommodation type for students experiencing homelessness is shelters, although this varies by school district.
Since the 2007-2008 school year, there has been a substantial rise in the proportion of students who are living unsheltered.
Why does this matter for students? Independent of poverty, the academic performance of students experiencing homelessness is lower – and is likely to stay lower – than that of students with more residential stability. Homeless students are also more likely than stably housed students to experience family adversity and problems with physical and emotional health.
For more information on student homelessness and academic performance in Washington State, please see Schoolhouse Washington for more data, analysis and information.
The Youth of Color Needs Assessment from the NW Network is a qualitative study of unstably housed young people of color King County, their experiences and recommendations to address and prevent racial disparities in youth homelessness.
Notes & Sources
Source: Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Washington state, at http://www.k12.wa.us/HomelessEd/Data.aspx.
K-12 enrollment for all reported school years from the report card summary on the website of Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Washington state.