Backpacks of students hang outside a bungalow style classroom at Johnson Elementary School on Sept. 14, 2022. Funding would be used to replace the older style bungalows.
Backpacks of students hang outside a bungalow style classroom at Johnson Elementary School on Sept. 14, 2022. / File photo by Ariana Drehsler

The percentage of students at San Diego Unified who are homeless is higher than it has been in at least eight years. State data shows the number of homeless students has increased by around 1,300 over the same time period to 6,958. That’s a 23 percent increase.  

One thing to note: The district had five more homeless students in the 2019-2020 school year than this year, but because of precipitous pandemic-era enrollment declines, the percentage of district students who are homeless has increased.

Public schools across the country have been grappling with enrollment decline for years, a trend that was supercharged by the pandemic. San Diego Unified saw enrollment at the district’s traditional and charter schools drop by around 17,000 students in just the past eight years. That’s a 13-point drop from the 2014-2015 school year.

As I’ve reported before, an influx of thousands of students last year, thanks to a new grade for 4-year-olds, didn’t save the district from yet another enrollment decline. 

What it all means: The numbers are a grim reminder of the San Diego region’s long struggle with homelessness. And the trend is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Data released by the Regional Task Force on Homelessness consistently shows that each month more people are becoming homeless than are being housed.  

The world of homelessness services is rife with conflicting data. The San Diego County Office of Education has entirely different numbers than the state when it comes to the number of students who are homeless, and those numbers tell a different story. But one thing’s for sure – the issue is pressing and has long and often severe impacts for kids who are homeless. 

There’s also long been a gulf between the annual homelessness census and the number of homeless students the county reports, with the latter being much higher. That’s because what qualifies a student as homeless is broader than the criteria of the annual homelessness census. It includes those who don’t have a stable place to live or may be temporarily staying with a friend or family member, rather than just people who are living on the street. 

One Expert’s Take  

Barbara Duffield, the executive director of Schoolhouse Connection, a nonprofit that works with educational institutions to combat homelessness, said data discrepancies are a big problem for both policy and resources. She also said that a focus on targeting more visible street homelessness misses the long-term big picture. 

To her, homelessness needs to be understood as a constantly changing thing, rather than a static number – a river, rather than a lake. “It’s not like people plunk down from the sky on the streets (and you can say) ‘Gosh let’s find housing for them and then there won’t be any more,’” Duffield said. 

Given that reality, Duffield said, simply finding homes for the people currently on the street isn’t enough. “Because there’s always going to be somebody else to take their spot.” The only way to really stem the flow of new people falling into homelessness, Duffield said, is to focus on youth homeless intervention. To effectively do that, she said, organizations need to work not only with children but their families as well, and then follow through with continued support.  

“It is a deeply depressing reality. But here’s the thing – something can be done about it. You have public schools and you have these amazing people in public schools, who are everything to these families. They are shelter, they are food, they are support, they are seeing things and being able to help in a way that no other system is,” Duffield said. 

“This is a lever and a resource that needs to be utilized much more extensively and not marginalized in conversations on homelessness, but rather take a central role,” she said. 

Content Bouncing Around My Mind Palace 

  • AI seems to be on everyone’s minds, especially in the education-sphere. But what happens if you’re wrongly accused of using AI for schoolwork? One college student found out.  
  • New York Times’ The Daily podcast released a good overview on the head-to-head between balanced literacy and the science of reading. Related: If early childhood literacy interests you and you haven’t listened to the American Public Media podcast Sold a Story, which profiles how we got here, I can’t recommend it enough.  
  • EdSource reports that many students graduate from juvenile detention facilities with only rudimentary reading skills. “During a five-year span beginning in 2018, 85% of these students who graduated from high school and took a 12th-grade reading assessment did not pass it, according to data from the Division of Juvenile Justice, the agency operating state youth facilities,” Betty Márquez Rosales and Daniel J. Willis write.  

What We’re Writing 

  • San Diego Unified’s decision to abruptly close the iHigh Virtual Academy to middle and high schoolers has caused an uproar among some parents and educators. One of the key frustrations was that the district hadn’t told stakeholders exactly why the decision was made. A little over two weeks after the announcement, Deputy Superintendent Fabiola Bagula told me low performance and high costs played a large role in the district’s decision. 

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter. He can be reached by email at and followed on Twitter @jakobmcwhinney. Subscribe...

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.