Homeless youth, sometimes referred to as “unaccompanied” youth, are individuals under the age of 18 who lack parental, foster, or institutional care.
- The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare states there are between 1 million and 1.7 million homeless youth who have runaway or have been asked to leave their homes.
- According to the US Department of HHS, 61.8% of homeless youth reported depression, 71.7% reported experiencing major trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, 79.5% experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for more than a month.
- According to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, 25% of former foster youth became homeless 2.5-4 years after exiting care.
- 5% to 7% of American youths become homeless in any given year [NAEH, 2007].
- Homeless youth are evenly male-female, although females are more likely to seek help through shelters and hotlines.
- According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, between 6% and 22% of homeless girls are estimated to be pregnant.
- 75% of homeless or runaway youth have dropped out or will drop out of school
- Between 20% and 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT.
Causes of Youth Homelessness
The causes of homelessness among youth falls into three, inter-related categories:
Family problems – Disruptive family conditions are the principal reason that young people leave home and many homeless youth leave home after years of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, and/or parental neglect.
- According to interviews conducted by the Street Outreach Program through the US Department of Health & Human Services, youth attributed homelessness to the following causes: 51.2% were asked to leave home by a parent or guardian, 24.7% were unable to find a job, 23.8% claim to be physically abused or beaten, or left due to caretaker's drug or alcohol abuse.
- According to the National Conference for State Legislatures, Additionally, 17% of homeless youth were forced into unwanted sexual activity by a family or household member.
Residential instability – Some youth living in residential or institutional placements such as foster care, become homeless because they are discharged or emancipated with no housing or income support. One national study reported that more than one-in-five youth who arrived at shelters came directly from foster care, and that more than one-in-four had been in foster care in the previous year [National Association of Social Workers, 1992].
Homeless youth benefit from programs that meet immediate needs first, and then help them address other aspects of their lives.
Educational outreach programs, assistance in locating job training and employment, transitional living programs, and health care especially designed for, and directed at, homeless youth are also needed.
Homeless youth would benefit from many of the same measures that are needed to fight poverty and homelessness in the adult population, including the provision of affordable housing and employment that pays a living wage. In addition to these basic supports, the child welfare system must make every effort to prevent children from ending up on the streets.
Visit the National Campaign for Youth Shelter page to learn more!
Fact Sheets and Publications:
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - 2013 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness
- National Center on Family Homelessness - The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness
- National Center on Family Homelessness - A Framework for Developing Supports and Services for Families Experiencing Homelessness
- National Coalition for the Homeless - Youth Homelessness Fact Sheet
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Street Outreach Program - Data Collection Project Executive Summary
- United States Interagency Council on Homelessness - Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness