Study Snapshot: School Violence and Victimization Among School-Attending Homeless Youth as Compared With Their Non-Homeless Peers

For Immediate Release: April 15, 2018

Tony Pals,
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Collin Boylin,
(202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell)

Study: “School Violence and Victimization Among School-Attending Homeless Youth as Compared With Their Non-Homeless Peers”
Authors: Hadass Moore (University of Southern California), Ron Avi Astor (University of Southern California), Rami Benbenishty (Bar Ilan University, Israel) 

This study will be presented at the 2018 AERA Annual Meeting  
Date/Time: Sunday, April 15, 10:35 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.

Main Finding:

  • Homeless youths from all subgroups are at high risk of victimization and school violence, especially weapon involvement. 


  • Utilizing a large representative sample of the entire state of California, the authors examined differences between subgroups of homeless students (non-sheltered, sheltered, living with family and friends, living with another family) and compared them to non-homeless students. The results demonstrate that homeless students from all subgroups are at a high risk of experiencing school violence and victimization.
  • Previous research has shown that homelessness researchers and advocates for the homeless, as well as education scholars, have largely overlooked the school experience of homeless youth, particularly school violence.
  • School-attending homeless youth represent a distinct and hidden group within the homeless youth population that is often overlooked for numerous reasons, including under-identification, fear of stigma, and lack of awareness of the specific definition of homelessness under the McKinney-Vento Act for Homeless Assistance Act, which authorizes the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program.  
  • This study addresses the gap in empirical literature on school victimization, school-attending homeless youth, and schools. Specifically, this study explores school violence and safety (discriminatory bullying, behavioral victimization, weapon involvement) among various subgroups of homeless students as compared to their non-homeless peers. This is the first time such an analysis has been conducted with a statewide representative sample.
  • The analysis draws from the 2011–2013 California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) conducted by WestED. The CHKS is the largest statewide survey of school protective factors, safety, and risk behaviors in the United States.
  • The sample had a total of 27,286 homeless students across the state of California. The homeless student living situations included 11,940 students living with friends or relatives; 10,341 students living in a home with another family; 2,183 students living with shelter (e.g., motel, hotel, or homeless shelter); and 2,822 students living without shelter. The sample also included 358,228 non-homeless students as a comparison group from the same schools.
  • Twenty-three percent of non-homeless students reported experiencing discriminatory bullying (bullying that is based on discrimination related to race, gender, disability, etc.), while students living with other families (27.3 percent), students living with a relative or friend (29 percent), sheltered homeless students (41.7 percent), and especially non-sheltered homeless students (52.7 percent) reported higher rates of discriminatory bullying.
  • All groups experienced high rates (over 60 percent) of behavioral victimization (measurable violent behaviors that take place in school, such as the number of times an individual has been hit or kicked). Among non-homeless students, 61.1 percent reported behavioral victimization.
  • As with other discriminatory bullying, all the homeless subgroups reported higher levels of behavioral victimization: students living with other families (66.1 percent), students living with a relative or friend (68 percent), sheltered homeless students (70.7 percent), and especially non-sheltered homeless students (77 percent).  
  • Weapon involvement was also highly represented in the homeless subgroups, but by a larger number. While 10.6 percent of non-homeless students reported weapon involvement, 15.3 percent of students living with their families and 19.1 percent of students living with a friend or relative reported weapon involvement. For sheltered and non-sheltered homeless students the percentages were significantly higher: 37 percent and 60.3 percent, respectively.
  • The analysis found significant relationships between homelessness and school violence, even after controlling for student demographics and gang membership. For instance, as compared to non-homeless students, non-sheltered homeless students were 5.37 times more likely to be involved with weapons in school, 1.79 times more likely to experience behavioral victimization, and 2.5 times more likely to be bullied based on discrimination. 
  • “Although non-sheltered homeless students are at the highest risk of school violence and victimization, the findings also highlight one of the most hidden groups within the student homeless population: students who are ‘doubled up,’” said co-author Hadass Moore (University of Southern California). “These students, who live with relatives or friends due to economic hardship, represent the majority of homeless students across the nation. The differences between the subgroups within the homeless population demonstrate the need to identify each group’s unique needs and develop responses accordingly.”
  • The results also show that the levels of violence in school in each of the outcomes decrease based on the homelessness category when compared to non-homeless students in the following order: non-sheltered homeless students, sheltered homeless students, living with friends or relatives, and living with other family.
  • "The consistent differences between these groups of homeless youth have important policy implications, as they show that a differential approach is called for," said co-author Rami Benbenishty (Bar Ilan University, Israel).
  • “In many schools, homeless students are an invisible group with few or no resources. They are also absent in the school safety research literature,” said study co-author Ron Avi Astor, an expert in school violence and bullying, at the University of Southern California. “Students who live in small apartment spaces with many families, couch surf, or live in cars or trailers, need extra supports in schools.”
  • “We are especially concerned about Latino students and their families who may be refugees, immigrants, undocumented, or sleeping in different homes each night,” said Astor. “Latino students constitute a very large proportion of homeless students in schools in California and go under the radar in most schools across our country.”

To request a copy of the full paper, or to talk to study authors, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications,, cell: (202) 288-9333; Collin Boylin, Communications Associate,, cell: (860) 490-8326

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The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.