Five Revealing Facts About Homeless Youth


The federal government has set a goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020 with Opening Doors, a strategic plan released in 2010. But as the plan acknowledges, figuring out how many youth are homeless is no easy task.

This month, communities across the country will undertake the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count of homeless adults, families, and youth in an effort to measure the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. Unfortunately, the PIT count generally undercounts youth experiencing homelessness, so some communities choose to conduct a targeted count of this critically vulnerable population.

As the date of the annual count approaches, it’s helpful to take stock of what we’ve learned about these youth.

1 Many youth who leave home are not ready to be self-sufficient. Youth are likely to leave home because of a bad situation rather than feeling ready. A hallmark of readiness is the ability to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter, medical care, and work, and many homeless youth have trouble meeting these needs. In one study, about half of homeless youth had difficulty getting enough food and a majority had spent at least one day in the past month without anything to eat. 
This is not surprising because we know that developmentally, many young people are not ready to be out on their own. Neuroscience research finds that the brain continues to experience major development during adolescence and early adulthood. In fact, because we know that hitting an 18th birthday does not necessarily indicate readiness for adulthood, most states have extended foster care past the age of 18 to respond to the needs of a population that are now more accurately described as “emerging adults.”

2 Most homeless youth return home. We know that most homeless youth return home. And this can happen quickly. In one study of 1,682,900 underage runaway youth and youth forced to leave home, 99.6 percent returned home and most were gone for less than a week. In a different study of newly homeless adolescents in Los Angeles, California and Melbourne, Australia, most newly homeless adolescents returned home for significant amounts of time within two years of becoming homeless. This doesn’t mean that all youth remain home permanently. But they do maintain connections, even while away from home. In another study, 41 percent of homeless youth who owned a cell phone reported using it to stay connected to their families.

3 Many homeless youth attend school. Homeless youth face enormous challenges when it comes to attending school, but many still attend. Based on our tabulations using the Runaway and Homeless Youth Management Information System, we find that 65 percent of homeless youth ages 12 to 18 were attending school regularly and 20 percent were attending school irregularly.
It’s possible that schools don’t know just how many of their students are homeless. One innovative approach is the Homeless Youth Estimation Project, a direct-to-student survey designed to provide an estimate of the number of youth within a school district living somewhere outside of home temporarily. Results from 12 high schools in New England indicate high rates of youth disconnection from permanent and stable homes.

4 Many youth remain connected to the internet and social media, despite being homeless. One study found that 80 percent of homeless youth use the internet at least twice a week, with many seeing the web as a way to create and maintain social networks and locate services. Homeless youth can use the internet and connections on social media to maintain relationships and stay in touch with family and friends.

5 When it comes to sex work, homeless youth are being coerced and manipulated, and participate out of desperation. Homeless youth are particularly vulnerable to being coerced into the commercial underground sex economy. In a 2008 study in New York City, a great majority of sexually exploited children expressed a desire to change their circumstances, but felt that they were doing what they had to do to survive.

This article originally appeared at the Urban Institute.

More articles by:

Lina Breslav is a research associate in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute.

Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Can We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring