Youth homelessness is on the rise in North America, yet this vulnerable population is rarely studied and compared with adults. This paper aimed to study the homeless youth and identify specific vulnerabilities, which rendered them different from the adult homeless population. It also aimed to describe the youth homeless population and their significant co-morbidities.
Data was derived from the BC Health of the Homeless Study (BCHOHS), carried out in three cities in British Columbia, Canada: the large urban centre Vancouver (n=250); the mid-sized city and capital of the province Victoria (n=150). Measures included socio-demographic information, the Maudsley Addiction Profile (MAP), the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) and the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI) Plus.
Youth constituted 16.5% (n=82) of the homeless population. Compared to the adult homeless, the homeless youth were more often female (55%), were Aboriginal (47.6%), had greater substance abuse of alcohol (70.7%), amphetamines (8.5%) and cannabis (75.6%). A lower prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (0.2%) and psychotic disorders (13.4%) was also observed. The prevalence of traumatic experiences, other psychiatric disorders and physical illnesses were similar between the adult and homeless youth.
Homeless youth have high rates of physical and psychiatric comorbidity, similar to the adult homeless, despite being 20 years younger. An urgent need for interventions that go beyond the standardized ones being offered to homeless populations as a whole, and to derive specific strategies that target this vulnerable population is required.