Michigan has one of the largest populations of homeless students in the United States, according to new research from the University of Michigan. Communities in northern Michigan have some of the highest rates of child homelessness in the entire state.
Homelessness means a student doesn’t have a regular or adequate place to live. They could be living in a shelter, couchsurfing or in some other arrangement.
The report says about three percent of Michigan's total student population was homeless in 2016. The rate for northwest Lower Michigan was about five percent. The map below is an interactive tool from the University of Michigan that shows the statistics for individual school districts in Michigan.
Some areas in northern Michigan had much higher rates than the average.
Sixteen percent of students were homeless in Suttons Bay Public Schools. In Baldwin Community Schools, it was 26 percent of the student population – the highest in the state.
“This is not an urban issue. This is not just a rural issue,” says Jennifer Erb-Downward, a senior research associate with the University of Michigan who wrote the report. “This is an issue that is impacting the entire state.”
Erb-Downward says students experiencing homelessness face huge academic challenges.
“Homeless students are performing more poorly,” Erb-Downward says. “They are struggling more than all other groups that were available for comparison.”
A little more than half of homeless students graduate from high school in four years, according to the data. The average for all students is 80 percent.
Schools are required by federal law to help students who are homeless.
Abby Jordan leads the effort in Traverse City Area Public Schools. She coordinates a TCAPS initiative called Students in Transition Empowerment Program.
Jordan says one of the main goals is to keep students from changing schools when their housing situation changes.
“If we can keep them from changing schools, that at least stabilizes something in their life,” Jordan says. “School is often – for some of our vulnerable students – the place where they go to eat, to be warm, to be loved.”
TCAPS had a slightly higher rate of homelessness than the state average – about five percent.
Jordan says around 450 students are enrolled in a program for the homeless this year.