Nearly one in 30 children every year experience homelessness, according to a new study. And the problem is worst, on a per capita basis, in Kentucky.

That finding is part of a comprehensive 130-page report released Monday by the National Center for Family Homelessness that not only explores child homelessness by state, but also the conditions that fuel it. The report, in which states are ranked by the well-being of their children, risks for child homelessness and policy efforts, will be presented to Congress this winter.

The authors of the report found that an estimated 2.5 million children experience homelessness annually, continuing a steady rise from 2006 and 2010.


Child homelessness rates. (National Center on Family Homelessness)

Although the rate of child homelessness in Kentucky is the worst in the nation, at about one in 15 children, the group ranks Alabama the worst overall, when the four factors it considered are grouped together. That state ranks close to the bottom in the National Center for Family Homelessness’s rankings of homelessness, child well-being, risks for becoming homeless and policy.

Here’s a look at how each state ranked along each measure.

1. The big picture on child homelessness

Southern states dominate the bottom of the group’s overall ranking, with Alabama, Mississippi, California, Arkansas and New Mexico faring worst in NCFH’s composite ranking. Minnesota was the top-ranked state, followed by Nebraska, Massachusetts, Iowa and New Jersey.

2. Where child homelessness rates are worst

New York followed Kentucky with the highest rate of child homelessness. California was next, followed by Alabama and Oklahoma. Connecticut was home to the lowest rate of child homelessness, with a rate of about one per 140 children. New Jersey ranked second, followed by Rhode Island, Nebraska and Pennsylvania. Rates in those four states were about one in 71 or better.

The estimates for how many homeless children live in each state are based on two sets of federal data: an Education Department estimate of homeless children enrolled in public schools and a Census estimate of the child population overall.

Not all homeless children are living on the streets. The Education Department count — 1.3 million — not only includes those living in motels, trailer parks, abandoned buildings, cars, campgrounds, parks and public spaces, but an estimated 75 percent of homeless kids are living with relatives or friends. To arrive at the 2.5 million figure, the researchers applied that in-school estimate to the overall child population.

3. Child well-being by state

The state-by-state ranking of child well-being above is based on a number of conditions, including health problems among poor children, food insecurity, and proficiency in math and reading.

4. Risks for child homelessness by state

The researchers ranked each state on children’s risk of falling into homelessness, considering factors such as home foreclosure rates, the share of poor children in each state, the share of kids without insurance, share of female-headed households, the teen birth rate, minimum wage, income needed for a two-bedroom apartment, and share of households paying more than half their income in rent.

5. Ranking child homelessness policy by state

To grade states on policy and planning, the researchers took into account the availability of emergency shelters, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, and whether the state has a housing trust fund, interagency homelessness council, and a plan to reduce or end homelessness for children and families.