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  2. Homelessness and Housing Instability

Homelessness and Housing Instability

Image of two youth affected by homelessness in a shelter: one lying on a cot; one sitting on a cot

Homelessness is a major concern in the United States, and young people (ages 24 and under) 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, time frame, and definition used, but sources estimate that as many as 4.2 million youth and young adults (approximately one in 30 youth ages 13–17 and one in 10 young adults ages 18–25) experience homelessness within the United States each year.2

Youth experience homelessness for a multitude of reasons, but involvement in the juvenile justice or child welfare systems, abuse, neglect, abandonment, and severe family conflicts all have been associated with increased risk of experiencing homelessness. According to the Congressional Research Service report on Runaway and Homeless Youth: Demographics and Programs, family conflict often is due to the sexual orientation or gender identity of the young person, school problems, substance use, or pregnancy.3 These youth are vulnerable to a range of negative experiences, including exploitation and victimization. Many of the risk factors for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness also are adverse impacts of experiencing homelessness. For example, youth who have run away and youth affected by homelessness have high rates of involvement in the juvenile justice system, are more likely to engage in substance use and unlawful behavior, be teenage parents, drop out of high school, suffer from sexually transmitted diseases, and meet the criteria for mental health conditions.4

Experiences of unaccompanied youth affected by homelessness differ from those who experience homelessness with their families. Although negative occurrences persist for youth experiencing homelessness with their families, their experiences may not vary drastically from youth living in poverty.5 Studies also have found distinct variability in outcomes among youth experiencing homelessness, suggesting that youth experience homelessness differently.6 Whether youth experience homelessness alone or in a family, it can impact their life and future outcomes. Research shows that children and youth who experience homelessness are more likely to experience homelessness in adulthood.7

Providing timely prevention and direct interventions to youth at risk of or experiencing homelessness and youth who have run away is important to protect them from the risks of living on the streets and to support positive youth development;8 yet despite the risks and needs of these youth, few appear to know of and access support services.9 Even more critical is addressing family/parental needs to prevent youth and/or their families from experiencing homelessness and addressing their behavioral health needs through comprehensive methods that involve both youth and their families.

Youth Voices

Two of the Youth Engaged 4 Change editorial board members, Akshay and Garrett, sat down to discuss housing insecurity. Akshay offered important information about the housing crisis and explained how housing insecurity can impact other aspects of your life. Garrett provided a first-hand account of what it is like to experience housing insecurity and the effects it has had on his life. Watch this video—created by young people for young people—to learn more about housing insecurity: Addressing Housing Insecurity.


Tips and Resources for Engaging Young People

Engaging Youth Experiencing Homelessness: Core Practices and Services (PDF, 38 pages). This publication describes practices and services that Health Care for the Homeless agencies have found helpful in engaging youth who are experiencing homelessness.

Information Memorandum on Leading in Partnership With Youth and Young Adults (PDF, 13 pages). The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) developed this memorandum in partnership with youth and young adults with lived experience, as well as with FYSB grant recipients who serve youth and young adults within their communities. Strategies and examples highlighted throughout this memorandum came directly from listening sessions and focus groups and can serve as a helpful tool in learning how to include the voices and engagement of young people in all areas of program development and design, including planning, implementation, service delivery, and evaluation.

Youth Engagement at the Federal Level: A Compilation of Strategies and Practices. This compilation of briefs on the youth engagement efforts of 12 agencies and departments describes the accomplishments and basic mechanisms of these strategies while also noting barriers, challenges, and a vision for the future. The conversations that informed this report consistently clarified that federal policymakers engaging young adults do so with two clear goals in mind: (a) to better support completion of their agencies’ missions and (b) to support the development of young adults.


Other Resources on this Topic


Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

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