Study: More than 4,000 Mecklenburg students homeless or unstably housed

Monday, March 13, 2017
This 2010 photo of toys on bunk beds at the Salvation Army Center of Hope shelter for women and children shows how homelessness is not just for adults. Photo: Nancy Pierce

A new report from the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute presents research on family homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Family homelessness is complicated, can result in negative impacts on educational outcomes for students and requires custom interventions based on each family’s unique needs.

The report, released March 2, presents national research on factors associated with family homelessness, the impact of homelessness on families and children, and interventions for family homelessness.  

Three main data sources can be used to measure and describe family homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg: the annual Point-in-Time Count, Homeless Management Information System data, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) McKinney-Vento data. 


McKinney-Vento is the name of a federal law that provides students experiencing homelessness or housing instability with transportation and educational supportive services, in an effort to provide educational stability. The report presents data from those three sources.  

  • During fiscal year 2015, there were 2,405 people in families that experienced homelessness.
  • 4,388 students experienced homelessness or housing instability in the 2014/2015 school year.
  • On one night in January, 758 families experienced homelessness in an emergency shelter, transitional housing, or unsheltered.

The report also uses data from the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute’s Institute for Social Capital (ISC).  ISC is an integrated data system, which has the unique ability to link CMS McKinney-Vento student data with Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data on families experiencing sheltered homelessness in emergency shelter or transitional housing.

Of the 711 CMS students who were in an emergency shelter or transitional housing at some point during the 2014-2015 school year, 38 percent were not connected to McKinney-Vento services for which they were eligible. Many of the students who were not connected to McKinney-Vento services had experienced homelessness in an emergency shelter. 

Key findings related to CMS students experiencing homelessness and housing instability include:

  • 28 percent of the 4,388 CMS students identified as McKinney-Vento were proficient in reading, compared to 58 percent of all CMS students and 41 percent of all economically disadvantaged students. 
  • 29 percent of the 4,388 CMS students identified as McKinney-Vento were chronically absent, missing 18 or more days of school.
  • Chronically absent students in CMS who experience sheltered homelessness were 21 percent less likely to be proficient in reading compared to their sheltered peers.
  • Black students experiencing homelessness are 50 percent less likely to be proficient in reading compared to their non-black peers who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability
Click on image to download full report.

There are multiple solutions and interventions for family homelessness that need to be tailored to the unique needs of each family. National literature points to affordable housing, rapid-rehousing, transitional housing, a two-generational approach, and supportive services as tools that can be used based on each family’s unique needs.

For a local perspective on solutions that address family homelessness, researchers interviewed with Charlotte-Mecklenburg agencies working with families experiencing homelessness. Staff at these agencies cited affordable housing and increased household income as two of the greatest needs for the families they serve. This is in line with national research, which has found that providing families with a long-term housing subsidy is the most effective tool for reducing family homelessness, compared to other interventions.

The report was funded by Mecklenburg County and written on behalf of the Housing Advisory Board of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The report is the third in the 2016 series of county-funded reports exploring housing instability and homelessness.

The report is accompanied by a toolkit developed by Mecklenburg County Community Support Services.  The toolkit is intended to summarize the report and provide action steps for people interested in becoming more involved in the issue of family homelessness.


If you are interested in learning more about affordable housing, housing instability, and homelessness, UNC Charlotte will host a symposium on “Housing Affordability: Context, Intersection & Innovation.”  The symposium will be April 5, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the UNC Charlotte Center City building.  For more details: