Homeless Youth in America and the Role of Public Policy

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Infographics | View all blog posts under Online Master of Public Administration

Annually, an estimated 4.2 million youths and young adults experience homelessness. The pathway to homelessness is complex and often starts with family instability. Many homeless youths experience abuse, domestic violence, and discrimination for their sexual orientation, increasing their risk of homelessness.

Much has been achieved through public policy over the past few decades to support vulnerable youths and young adults facing homelessness. However, challenges to helping homeless youths in America still loom large today.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University online Master of Public Administration program.

Homeless youth in America statistics and the role of public policy in supporting vulnerable youths.

Add This Infographic to Your Site

<p style="clear:both;margin-bottom:20px;"><a href="https://onlinemasters.ohio.edu/blog/homeless-youth-in-america/" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank"><img src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/utep-uploads/wp-content/uploads/sparkle-box/2020/01/05145713/OU-MPA-2022-Q1-Standard-Refresh-Homeless-Youth-in-America-and-the-Role-of-Public-Policy-v6-01.jpg" alt="Homeless youth in America statistics and the role of public policy in supporting vulnerable youths." style="max-width:100%;" /></a></p><p style="clear:both;margin-bottom:20px;"><a href="https://onlinemasters.ohio.edu" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank">Ohio University </a></p>

Annually, an estimated 4.2 million youths and young adults experience homelessness. The pathway to homelessness is complex and often starts with family instability. Many homeless youths experience abuse, domestic violence, and discrimination for their sexual orientation, increasing their risk of homelessness.

Much has been achieved through public policy over the past few decades to support vulnerable youths and young adults facing homelessness. However, challenges to helping homeless youths in America still loom large today.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University online Master of Public Administration program.

How Many Youths Are Homeless in America?

Youths and young adults experiencing homelessness across the U.S. face difficult decisions when considering where to spend the night; some are forced to trade sex for housing, while others are trafficked.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) lists four categories of homelessness.

  • Literally homeless describes people who are living in a shelter, who have a primary nighttime residence not meant for human habitation, or who are exiting an institution where they lived for 90 days or fewer after living in a shelter or a space not meant for human habitation.
  • Imminent risk of homelessness describes people who may lose their primary nighttime residence under certain circumstances.
  • Homeless under other statutes describes unaccompanied youths younger than 25 or families with youths in that age range who are defined as homeless by other federal statutes.
  • Fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence includes people escaping from domestic violence who have no other residence and lack the resources to obtain permanent housing.

Homeless Youth Statistics

A 2016-17 national survey by Voices of Youth Count found that 1 in 10 young adults ages 18 to 25 and 1 in 30 teenagers ages 13 to 17 experienced homelessness over a 12-month period. The majority of homeless youths ages 13 to 25 experienced homelessness lasting more than a month and/or felt unsafe. Seventy-two percent of those who slept in shelters or on the streets also couch surfed. The survey also revealed that some 50% of youths experienced homelessness for the first time in the past year, and over one-third of homeless youths had experienced the death of a parent or caregiver.

According to the survey, the rates of homelessness among young adults and teens living in urban and rural counties were similar. Additionally, 29% of young adults experiencing homelessness were enrolled in college or another educational program.

What Factors Contribute to Youth Homelessness?

Homeless youths and young adults in the U.S. have much in common: Early instability in their homes may have been caused by poor parental mental health, addiction, or domestic violence. For vulnerable youths and children, the road to homelessness is often paved with tragedy and trauma.

Measuring Risk Factors

A 2019 report published by Voices of Youth Count — the last report of its kind published prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — says young adults ages 18 to 25 without a high school diploma or GED certificate were 4.5 times more likely to report explicit homelessness than their peers who finished high school. A separate Voices of Youth Count report states the risk of homelessness was 200% higher for unmarried parenting youths, 162% higher among those reporting an annual household income of less than $24,000, and 120% higher for LGBT youths. The risk was also 83% higher for Black youths and 33% higher for Hispanic, nonwhite youths.

The Road to Homelessness

Young people link the beginning of their homelessness to early family instability and home life disruptions, including entrance into foster care. Some of these unstable or unsafe family conditions lead to parental rejection, youths getting kicked out, or youths running away. Causes of family instability include parental struggles with physical health, addiction, infidelity, or domestic violence.

Young people point to factors such as mental health issues and substance abuse as contributing to their path to homelessness. LGBTQ and multiracial youths report facing stigma from family members.

Young people also experience structural factors in their environments that lead to their homelessness — an issue that particularly impacts youths in the foster care system. Additionally, youth pathways through homelessness sometimes involve geographic mobility, an issue that for some involves crossing state lines or national borders.

Another factor that contributes to youth homelessness is a personal loss, such as the death of a parent or caregiver.

Public Policy on Homelessness

Government laws and programs are working to make a positive impact on the lives of homeless youths and young adults.

The federal Family and Youth Services Bureau oversees and supports several programs that serve homeless youths and runaways, including the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, established in 1973, which administers the National Runaway Safeline (1-800-RUNAWAY) and provides services to runaway youths. In 2018, Congress passed the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which authorizes communities to provide runaways and homeless youths with temporary shelter and counseling services.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 consists of several programs that provide services to homeless individuals. The John H. Chaffee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood program provides funds to states, territories, and Native American tribal entities to support youths who are or were involved with the foster care system.

Additionally, the United States Interagency Council of Homelessness partners with public and private sector organizations to improve federal homelessness spending outcomes.

Building a Better Tomorrow

The stories of homeless youths and young adults can be tragic and heartbreaking. But with the help of informed public policy, strategic federal funding, and the efforts of nonprofit organizations, those stories can have happy endings.

 

Sources:

Benefits.gov, John H. Chafee Foster Care for Successful Transition to Adulthood

Family and Youth Services Bureau, Runaway and Homeless Youth

HUD Exchange, CoC and ESG Homeless Eligibility

National Alliance to End Homelessness, Youth and Young Adults

National Center for Homeless Education, The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act

National Center for Homeless Education, The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act

National Conference of State Legislatures, Youth Homelessness Overview

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “The 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress”

Voices of Youth Count, “Missed Opportunities: Education Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness in America”

Voices of Youth Count, “Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America”