A record number of students from preschool through high school are homeless, according to the latest Education Department enrollment study suggesting a figure as high as 1.2 million.
According to the Washington Post
, California, Florida, New York, and Texas have the highest numbers of homeless students living in shelters, hotels, or in temporary housing situations. The numbers taken from a study of the 2011-2012 school year, are 10 percent higher than the previous year and 72 percent higher than before the economic recession took hold in 2008.
Advocacy groups say continued economic struggles are to blame.
"The recession isn't over for America's poorest families," Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children, told CNN
. "There's a gap between what jobs are available, what those jobs pay and what affordable housing is available."
While California and Florida have the highest number of homeless students, the Post noted that 10 states had a spike in homelessness of 20 percent or more. Among those with the biggest percentage increases: North Dakota, 212 percent; Maine, 58 percent; North Carolina, 53; Michigan, 42; Wyoming, 40; South Dakota, 35; and Vermont with 31 percent.
While the statistics are startling, experts believe the actual number of homeless students is much higher. Accurate information can be hard to come by because some parents refuse to admit to homelessness out of fear of losing their children and the students themselves are often too embarrassed to acknowledge their situation.
"Parents are afraid [their children] will be removed from their custody, so there are definitely kids that go unseen," Duffield said. "There are a lot of kids, especially in high school, who really hide [that they are homeless] and try to stay under the radar — they're just embarrassed."
Advocates are urging the government to help those in need of a place to live, the Post noted.
"Children and youth who are homeless suffer and this data confirms what the homeless youth field has been seeing on the ground," National Network for Youth Policy Director Darla Bardine said in a statement.
"The number of homeless youth and families in need of housing and services has been increasing as local and state supports have decreased. Congress needs to act with urgency in scaling up the housing, care and support these children and youth need to succeed."
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