Report Finds Youth Homelessness on the Rise, Asks Congress for Help

A national study conducted by researchers at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that one in 10 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 experienced some kind of homelessness over the past year. For youth between the ages of 13 and 17, that number is one in 30.

That’s 3.5 million young adults and 700,000 adolescents who are homeless, according to the new report Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America

For many of these teens and young adults, it was not a one-off experience. Forty-two percent of them experienced two or more bouts of homelessness, according to the survey.

“The findings in this report validate what hundreds of youth service providers and youth who have experienced homelessness across the country have been saying for decades: homelessness among youth and young adults is far more pervasive than officials recognize and occurs in rural and urban communities alike,” said Darla Bardine, executive director of the National Network for Youth, in an e-mail to The Chronicle.

The study also found that some groups in those populations experienced higher rates of homelessness. African American, Latino and LGBTQ youth were more likely to struggle with homelessness than their peers, along with young people who have not completed high school. It also shows youth in rural, suburban and urban counties had similar rates of homelessness.

The Chapin Hall report surveyed 26,161 people to find out how common the experience of homelessness was for youth and young people in the nation. Researchers interviewed respondents who were ages 18 to 25 as well as adults in households with youth and young adults ages 13 to 25.

Homelessness was defined in a broad way that could include living on the streets, in shelters, running away, being kicked out or couch surfing. Bardine said that is the scope of homelessness that should be used in federal policy as well.

“For too long, outdated definitions and program requirements from federal agencies … have restricted the services and resources available to young people experiencing these varied forms of homelessness,” Bardine said. “But there should be no quibbling on this point: young people should be able to access the services and housing they need to avoid or exit homelessness, no matter what form it takes.”

The report makes several recommendations aimed at ways that Congress can leverage existing policy opportunities to address the impact of youth homelessness, including:

  • Conduct national estimates of youth homelessness biennially to track our progress in ending youth homelessness.
  • Fund housing interventions, services and prevention efforts in accordance with the scale of youth homelessness, accounting for different needs.
  • Encourage assessment and service delivery decisions that are responsive to the diversity and fluidity of circumstances among youth experiencing homelessness.
  • Build prevention efforts in systems where youth likely to experience homelessness are in our care: child welfare, juvenile justice and education.
  • Acknowledge unique developmental and housing needs for a young population, and adapt services to meet those needs.
  • Tailor supports for rural youth experiencing homelessness to account for more limited service infrastructure over a larger terrain.
  • Develop strategies to address the disproportionate risk for homelessness among specific subpopulations, including pregnant and parenting, LGBT, African American and Hispanic youth, and young people without high school diplomas.

In addition to those recommendations, Bardine said, “Congress must act to reauthorize and fully fund the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which has a 43-year record of success in providing critical community-based care, prevention services, housing and counseling to homeless youth.”

You can read the report here.


Sunshine Decosta is a graduate of California State University, Northridge, and an intern with The Chronicle of Social Change.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email