A new report says the number of homeless children in Michigan is likely two and a half times greater than previously thought.ListenListening…0:53

The report estimates the number of homeless Michigan children under the age of four at 15,565.

The findings have broad implications for mental health. According to the report, fifty-four percent of preschool children experiencing homelessness have a major developmental delay, compared with just sixteen percent of their peers who are not homeless.

The report estimates were based on the number of first graders identified as homeless in the 2016-17 school year and assumed the same percentage of children would be homeless at every age.

Sarah Ostyn is with the Michigan League for Public Policy, which worked with the University of Michigan to compile the data. She said the estimates are rough because it’s difficult to get data on homelessnes in young children.

“There’s not a great way to collect that information for children before they enter school because not all children are accessing services from places that would count your status as homelessness,” Ostyn said.

Previous estimates of homeless children between zero and four have largely been based on data from shelters and HUD-funded programs.

Ostyn said the new number includes the number of kids living on the streets, in cars, or in shelters.

“But it also includes children who are, what we call, ‘doubled up.’ So maybe living with another family or friend where there isn’t adequate space or they can’t stay consistently so maybe bouncing from house to house.”

According to Ostyn, even these new estimates are likely an undercount.

“Children are most likely to be homeless from zero to five,” Ostyn said. “There are some national estimates that this number is nowhere near what we would actually see if we had a good way of counting children from zero to four.”

The highest percentage of homelessness was found in Alger, Lake, and Arenac counties but the report cautioned that roughly seventy-five percent of homeless children are still located in urban areas.

Ostyn said the report recommends improving access to affordable housing and childhood education to reduce homelessness and ensure children are getting access to state services.