U.S. Study Finds 1 in 10 Youth Experience Some Form of Homelessness

The report aims to challenge the notion that homelessness afflicts mostly older men.

Photo Credit: Marek/Flickr Creative Commons

One in 10 young adults aged 18 to 25 in the U.S. have slept on the streets, in shelters, run away from home, been kicked out of their home, or couch-surfed in the past year, according to a national survey.

The study, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in Americapublished in the Journal of Adolescent Health, also found that at least one in 30 adolescents aged 13-17 experienced some form of homelessness unaccompanied by a parent or guardian over the same period.

Researchers with Chapin Hall, a youth policy center at the University of Chicago, polled more than 26,000 young people and their families over the past two years. Extrapolated nationally, the findings suggest nearly 3.5 million young adults and 660,000 adolescents had been homeless within the previous year.

The report aimed to challenge the notion that homelessness afflicts mostly older men. Key to understanding the statistics, the authors wrote, is that spot or “point in time” surveys had underestimated the issue because “young people often shift among temporary circumstances such as living on the streets and couch surfing in unstable locations.”

The survey identified college students, graduates and employed young people who struggled to find a permanent place to stay. It also found that homelessness was no less prevalent in rural areas than in urban locations, and that certain groups, including black and Hispanic, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, as well as those who do not complete high school or are young parents, are at greater risk.

Many experience some conditions simultaneously. Young people with less than a high school diploma or GED were found to be 346% more likely to be homeless; LGBT youth had a 120% greater risk; black or African American people had an 83% greater risk; non-white Hispanics had a 33% higher risk; and unmarried parenting young people a 200% greater risk.

Young people reporting annual household income of less than $24,000 had a 162% higher risk.

“Every day of housing instability and the associated stress represents a missed opportunity to support healthy development and transitions to productive adulthood,” Chapin Hall researchers concluded.

“Our findings probably challenge the images of homelessness. Homelessness is young,” Matthew Morton, a research fellow with the policy center, told the Washington Post. “It’s more common than people expect and it’s largely hidden.” 

He added: “Many young people are getting hammered in this economy … and far too many youth have experienced trauma and lack stable family situations. You have a major affordable housing crisis.” 

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Edward Helmore has worked as a reporter for the Observer and the Guardian.