Runaway and Homeless Youth

Girls Mentoring and Education Service

He told her he loved her. He told her he’d give her a job at his recording studio. She was 16, jobless, and living with a friend, so she believed him. She never expected what would happen next: He took her to his house in New Jersey, where she was forced to prostitute herself along with ten other young women.

Planning for the 2011 Continuums of Care Point-in-Time Count on Homelessness

Continuums of Care (CoCs) across the country undertake community-wide efforts to collect information on the number and characteristics of individuals and families experiencing homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires CoCs to complete this point-in-time (PIT) count at least every two years during the last ten days of January.

National Runaway Prevention Month: Ten Years of 'Making the Connection'

Each year, thousands of U.S. youth run away from home, are asked to leave their homes, and / or become homeless for a variety of reasons leaving many young people without a safe place to stay. They sleep on the streets, in cars or on their friends’ couches.

Opening Doors – Ending Youth Homelessness by 2020

Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, is the nation’s first comprehensive strategy aimed at preventing and ending homelessness, and serves as a roadmap for federal departments as well as local and state partners in the public and private sector to address this critical issue.

Minnesota's Support Systems for Rural Homeless Youth Program

Among homeless youth in Minnesota, Native Americans are one of three high risk populations (the others being African Americans and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and/or Questioning youth).  Native American youth make up 1% of the state’s youth population but constitute 20% of the state's homeless youth.1  Despite this disparity, there are few programs that are culturally specific to Native youth and even fewer located on any of the state's eleven Reservations.  

The Voices of Young People Highlight the SSRHY Annual Meeting

Support Systems for Rural Homeless Youth (SSRHY) is a 5-year, 6-state collaborative demonstration funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) with the Children’s Bureau (CB) as a supporting partner.  SSRHY is aimed at improving adult outcomes for rural youth who are approaching young adulthood and independence but who have few or no connections to a supportive family or community resources.  This includes runaway and homeless youth and youth transitioning out of foster care.

U.S. Government sets goal to end youth homelessness in 10 years

The U.S. Department of Education reported that 53,000 homeless youth were supported through school-based programs last year, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development counted more than 22,000 young people in emergency or transitional housing in 2009.  Another 110,000 youth are believed to be living on the streets. It is likely this is a serious underestimate of the total number of homeless youth, but the actual number of youth experiencing homelessness is unknown.

LGBT

Sexual orientation and gender are important aspects of a young person’s identity. Understanding and expressing sexual orientation and gender and developing related identities are typical development tasks that vary across children and youth. For example, some youth may be unsure of their sexual orientation, whereas others have been clear about it since childhood and have expressed it since a young age.1 Expressing and exploring gender identity and roles is also a part of normal development.2 The process of understanding and expressing one’s sexual orientation and gender identity is unique to each individual. It is not a one-time event and personal, cultural, and social factors may influence how one expresses their sexual orientation and gender identity.3

Unfortunately, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth experience various challenges because of how others respond to their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This is also true for youth who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, or may be perceived as LGBT or gender variant by others.4 A landmark 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report reviewed research on the health of LGBT individuals, including youth. Although this research is limited, the IOM report found that “the disparities in both mental and physical health that are seen between LGBT and heterosexual and non-gender-variant youth are influenced largely by their experiences of stigma and discrimination during the development of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”5 These negative experiences include high rates of physical and emotional bias and violence; rejection by families and peers; and inadequate supports in schools, employment, and communities because of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Stress associated with these experiences can put LGBT young people at risk for negative health outcomes. Research shows that due to these environmental challenges, LGBT youth are at risk for negative health outcomes and are more likely to attempt suicide, experience homelessness, and use illegal drugs.6 These issues may also contribute to anxiety, depressive symptoms, and feelings of isolation. Youth who express their gender in ways that vary from societal expectations for their perceived sex or gender are at risk for high levels of childhood physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.7 They are also at risk for school victimization.8 As a result, they may have poorer well-being than lesbian, gay, and bisexual peers whose gender expression is more closely aligned with societal expectations.9

To date, most research on LGBT youth has focused on the risk factors and disparities they experience compared with youth who are not LGBT. However, emerging research on resiliency and protective factors offers a strength-based focus on LGBT youth well-being. Addressing LGBT-related stigma, discrimination, and violence; building on the strengths of LGBT youth; and fostering supports such as family acceptance and safe, affirming environments in schools and other settings will help improve outcomes for LGBT young people. Federal and local policies and practices increasingly acknowledge and focus on the experiences and needs of LGBT youth. Numerous national advocacy and other organizations are also giving greater attention to LGBT youth in their work.10 Fostering safe, affirming communities and youth-serving settings such as schools for all youth requires efforts to address the challenges described here. At the same time, it is also important to acknowledge and build on the strengths, resilience, and factors that protect LGBT youth from risk, such as connection to caring adults and peers and family acceptance.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Risks Among Sexual Minority Youth
This website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information on protective factors and data related to health risks and sexual minority youth.

1 Institute of Medicine, 2011; Poirier, Fisher, Hunt, & Bearse, 2014
2 Institute of Medicine, 2011; Poirier, Fisher, Hunt, & Bearse, 2014
3 Poirier, Fisher, Hunt, & Bearse, 2014
4 Gender variant youth are not necessarily LGBT. In fact, any youth who does not fit typical social expectations for his or her mannerisms, behavior, or choice of clothing based on birth-assigned gender, for example, can be considered “gender variant.” This does not mean the youth is lesbian, gay, or bisexual—or identifies as a gender different from what he or she was assigned at birth (i.e., transgender).
5 Institute of Medicine, 2011, p. 142
6 Hunter & Schaecher, 1987; Reis, 1999; Reis & Saewyc, 1999; Ray, 2006; Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2009; SAMHSA, 2014
7 Roberts, Rosario, Corliss, Koenen, & Austin, 2012
8 Toomey, Ryan, Diaz, & Russell, 2010
9 Rieger & Savin-Williams, 2012
10 American Association of School Administrators et al., n.d.; National Association of School Nurses, 2003; National Association of School Psychologists, 2006

Homelessness and Runaway

Homelessness is a major social concern in the United States, and youth may be the age group most at risk of becoming homeless.1 The number of youth who have experienced homelessness varies depending on the age range, timeframe, and definition used, but sources estimate that between 500,000 and 2.8 million youth are homeless within the United States each year.2

Youth run away or are homeless for a range of reasons, but involvement in the juvenile justice or child welfare systems, abuse, neglect, abandonment, and severe family conflict have all been found to be associated with youth becoming homeless. These youth are vulnerable to a range of negative experiences including exploitation and victimization. Runaway and homeless youth have high rates of involvement in the juvenile justice system, are more likely to engage in substance use and delinquent behavior, be teenage parents, drop out of school, suffer from sexually transmitted diseases, and meet the criteria for mental illness.3 Experiences of unaccompanied homeless youth are different from those who experience homelessness with their families. While negative experiences persist for youth who are homeless with their families, their experiences may not vary drastically from youth living in poverty.4 Studies have also found distinct variability in outcomes experienced by homeless youth, suggesting that youth experience homelessness differently.5

Providing timely and direct interventions to homeless and runaway youth is important to protect them from the risks of living on the streets and to support positive youth development6, yet despite the risks and needs of these youth, few appear to know of, and access, support services.7 Even more critical is addressing the family/parental needs to prevent youth and/or their families from becoming homeless and addressing their behavioral health needs through comprehensive methods that involve both youth and their families. 

1 Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007
2 Cooper, 2006
3 Walsh & Donaldson, 2010; Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007
4 Samuels, Shinn, & Buckner, 2010
5 Huntington, Buckner, & Bassuk, 2008
6 Walsh & Donaldson, 2010
7 Pergamit & Ernst, 2010

 

Providing Unbiased Services for LGBTQ Youth Project

The Providing Unbiased Services for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) Youth Project is a collaborative effort that originated in Multnomah County, Oregon and focuses on training staff and encouraging policy changes to provide unbiased services for LGBTQ youth in in-home and out-of-home care settings.

The collaboration structure includes