Objective: Although youth homelessness presents a significant public health problem, the needs of homeless youths with mental illness, as distinct from adults, are not well understood. This study examined the unique demographic, clinical, and service use characteristics of homeless youths.
Methods: At Home/Chez Soi was a large randomized controlled trial of the Housing First model in five cities in Canada. Of 2,255 participants, 7% (N=164) were youths ages 18 to 24. Youths were compared with older participants on baseline demographic, clinical, and service use characteristics.
Results: More youths than adults had not finished high school (76% versus 54%), had a drug use disorder (66% versus 52%), and had been assaulted in the past six months (44% versus 36%) (all p<.05). Fewer than half the youths (49%) had a regular medical doctor, 50% reported unmet need for health care, and 61% visited an emergency department in the past six months.
Conclusions: This sample of homeless youths with mental illness had low education, high rates of substance use disorders and victimization, and problems accessing services. These findings suggest that youths have trajectories to homelessness and service needs that are distinct from adults and may guide future planning for this vulnerable population.