Unaccompanied Youth Experiencing Homelessness

This resource provides information about unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness.

Unaccompanied Youth Experiencing Homelessness

On a given night in January 2010i:

  • Unaccompanied youth represented 1.1% of the sheltered adult population

Other estimates of the prevalence of youth homelessness:

  • A 1998 national study of the prevalence of homelessness among youths living in households was 7.6%ii.
  • In 2007, researchers estimated that this translates to a national prevalence of 1.6 million youth experiencing homelessness each yeariii.
  • 1996 NSHAPC data found that 12% of all homeless clients were youth ages 17-24.

Age, Gender & Race/Ethnicity

  • The majority of homeless youth are ages 13 or olderiv.
  • Multiple studies show that homelessness among youth is more common among males, particularly among street-involved youth. Some samples of youth in shelters show more females than malesv. However, depending on the sample, gender distribution varies.
  • Studies show differing compositions of race/ethnicity among homeless youth. Some show no difference among homeless youth and other youth in their surrounding areas; other found disproportionate representation among racial/ethnic minority youth who become homelessvi.

Serious Mental Illness, Traumatic Stress, & Substance Use

Among homeless youth, when compared to housed peers or the general adolescent populationvii:

  • Rates of mood disorders, suicide attempts, conduct disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder are higher.
  • Risk for mental health problems is higher among street-involved homeless youth than youth who are homeless but not living on the streets.
  • Risk of alcohol or drug abuse or dependence is higher.

Youth who are homeless:

  • Are more likely to have histories of physical or sexual abuseviii ix x.
  • Often experience trauma prior to becoming homeless and are at increased risk of trauma after they become homelessxi.

Research on rates of post-traumatic stress among homeless youth is minimal, but a 1989 study in Hollywood, CA found that rates were up to three times higher than their housed peersxii.

Sexual Identity/Orientation

Youth who are LGBTQI2-S1 and Homeless

In 2007, the National Alliance to End Homelessness analyzed 17 research studies to estimate that 20% of youth who are homeless identify as LGBTQ2 xiii. Other prevalence estimates range from 6% to 35% of youth who are homelessxiv.

  • These youth often leave home because of family rejection or conflictxv xvi
  • Youth who are LGBTQI2-S and homeless are at high risk for substance use, mental health issues, self-harming behavior, and sexually transmitted diseasesxvii
  • Youth who are LGBTQ experience sexual victimization before becoming homeless at twice the rate of their heterosexual peersxviii
  • LGBTQ youth who are homeless are more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual peers who are homelessxix
  • Compared to heterosexual homeless youth, LGB homeless youth experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) more often (47% compared to 33%)
    • Lesbian youth who are homeless have particularly high rates of PTSD (59%)xx
  • LGBT homeless youth are more likely than heterosexual homeless youth to report experiencing neglect, physical victimization, sexual victimization by a caretaker, and sexual victimization on the streetxxi
  • Research indicates that LGBT youth who are homeless will experience 7.4 more acts of violence than their heterosexual peersxxii

Foster Care Involvement

Estimates of youth involvement in foster care range from 13.8%-53%xxiii xxiv.

  • Research on a sample of 1087 interviews with alumni of foster care found that 22% experienced homelessness at some point in the year following discharge from the system. 42% experienced homelessness for one or more nights at some point in their lives following foster carexxv.
  • Research on a sample of 603 foster youth showed that 13.8% experienced homelessness at some point after leaving foster carexxvi.

According to data from the 1996 NSHAPC study, 27% of all homeless clients reported living in foster care, a group home, or other institutional settingxxvii.

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Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA