Youth Homelessness and Vulnerability: How Does Couch Surfing Fit?

Youth homelessness is a problem characterized by high levels of vulnerability. The extent to which couch surfing — moving from one temporary housing arrangement to another — is part of youth homelessness is not well understood. Chapin Hall's Voices of Youth Count, a national research initiative, involves a multicomponent approach to studying youth homelessness. This study reports emerging findings regarding couch surfing and homelessness primarily from a national survey of 13,113 adults with youth ages 13–25 in their households or who are themselves ages 18–25. Findings suggest that couch surfing is relatively common, particularly among the older age group. Among households with 13- to 17-year-olds and 18- to 25-year-olds, 4.0% and 20.5%, respectively, reported that any of them had couch surfed in the last 12 months. There are notable social, economic, and educational differences, on average, between youth reporting homelessness and those reporting only couch surfing. However, most youth who report experiencing homelessness also report couch surfing, and these youth who experience both circumstances present high levels of socioeconomic vulnerability. Couch surfing encompasses a range of experiences, some of which likely include need for services. Interviews currently in the field, and expanded analysis of data, will contribute more nuanced policy insights.

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American Journal of Community Psychology