The number of homeless children in public schools is up 57 percent since the start of the last recession.

That gloomy figure -- from the U.S. Department of Education -- was highlighted by the First Focus Campaign for Children, a Washington-based nonprofit. Across America, classrooms are filled with more than 1 million homeless students, the highest number in the country’s history, First Focus says.

In Maryland, the number of homeless students has more than doubled since 2007, colleague Jessica Anderson reported in January. The number of homeless students rose from 6,721 five years ago to 14,117.

Advocates see the numbers as illuminating the depth of the housing crisis and the consequences of a lack of affordable housing.

“Everyone has a human right to safe, decent, affordable housing,” Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, said in a statement. “And until we make that right a reality for all Americans, the number of homeless students will continue rising.”

First Focus says the number of homeless children is actually higher than the U.S. Department of Education reports because the statistics don’t include infants and toddlers, as well as older youth not identified by schools.

First Focus says that 44 states reported an increase in homeless student populations from the end of the 2009-2010 school year to the end of the 2010-2011 school year. Fifteen states reported increases of 20 percent or more, according to the nonprofit.

States with the most significant increases in homeless students, according to First Focus: Kentucky, 47 percent; Michigan, 38 percent; Mississippi, 35 percent; Utah, 47 percent; and West Virginia, 38 percent.

This series by Liz Bowie chronicled the lives of two homeless Baltimore teenagers as they struggled to get by and graduate from high school. (Here's Part 1.) That was in 2005, before the recession.

ywenger@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/yvonnewenger