Researchers say homeless children are dramatically undercounted in schools in Detroit

Posted at 5:32 PM, Aug 24, 2021

DETROIT (WXYZ) — As the school year starts, many homeless families hide their situation, fearing their children will get kicked out of school or not be allowed to enroll. The fact is, they have a right under the law to not only an education but special resources.

Researchers found evidence we all need to do more to make sure children get the help available. A University of Michigan study says found nearly 9 out of 10 students dealing with housing insecurity are missed by their schools in Detroit.

“As we go into the school year it is important to recognize homeless students really need additional support,” said Jennifer Erb-Downward, Senior Research Associate at University of Michigan Poverty Solutions.

Erb-Downward led a project comparing estimated numbers of homeless children with homeless children identified to the state by schools in the city. While Detroit schools identified 1,785 students as homeless in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, between 7,000 and 14,009 children are believed to have been homeless then.

“When it comes down to my daughter over here. She has had issues getting an education. Getting on board. Trying to get connected with a tablet,” said Yvonne Wynn, a mother of five, who is experiencing homelessness.

Wynn says her two oldest children are living with their dad. Her three youngest ages 3, 6, and 11 are living with her at a Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries shelter.

She says if you thought virtual learning last year was challenging, try doing it while homeless. The Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries have helped her with resources to set her children up with educational success in the coming school year.

“It’s like a new beginning for me and my children,” she said.

“Since the pandemic started, everything has fallen apart and we had to do a lot of new efforts to connect the students back to their schools,” said Chad Audi President & CEO of Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

Audi says he believes homeless children are even more undercounted now. In the past, his counselors would physically go with families to talk to schools and make sure they were connected with resources. During the pandemic that stopped.

Due to student privacy laws, it is hard for shelter counselors to be a voice for children over the phone or virtually. He says he has seen kids fall behind.

“We deal with kids in kindergarten all the way to high school,” said Audi.

Audi says the Ministries also used to have a tutoring program staffed by volunteers. Volunteers have been hard to find during the pandemic.

Erb-Downward says it makes sense that schools would be undercounting homeless children even more now. She hopes the study helps raise awareness that more needs to be done to help children dealing with homelessness.

The Student Advocacy Center of Michigan works to connect students with resources they are entitled to and defend their rights. It says families should know that students who are homeless or living in a temporary living situation have the right to stay in the school they last attended when permanently housed. They also have the right to attend in the neighborhood where they are temporarily living. They have a right to transportation assistance to and from school if needed and requested. They have a right to enroll without documentation. They also have a right to free lunches without documenting income.

You can learn more at

Erb-Downward says homeless or housing insecure preschoolers also have the right to priority enrollment in Head Start programs.

“We want them to not miss school as a result,” said Erb-Downward.