Why Do Young People Become Homeless in America?

The vast majority of youth do not become homeless by choice. Many different factors contribute to youth homelessness, but studies suggest that there are common paths to homelessness for young people. The majority of homeless youth have either run away, been kicked out of unstable home environments, abandoned by their families or caregivers, involved with public systems (foster care, juvenile justice, and mental health), or have a history of residential instability and disconnection.

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How Many Homeless Youth Are In America?

In 2017, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago released a groundbreaking first-of-its-kind study titled Missed Opportunities that found 1 in 30, or about 700,000, youth ages 13-17 and 1 in 10, or about 3.5 million, young adults ages 18-24 experience homelessness during a 12-month period. Missed Opportunities also found that youth in rural areas and youth in urban areas experience homelessness at very similar rates, and that one half of youth facing homelessness over a 12-month period are doing so for the first time.  

Most research is based on school-aged (largely minors) homeless youth who are still attending public schools, which does not give a complete picture of the extent of youth homelessness in America, but is important regular and national data.  Also, because of the reasons why youth are homeless and their desire not to become ensnared in either the child welfare or criminal justice system, many young people hide their homelessness and do not disclose their living situation even if asked directly, which makes it challenging to know the true number of youth experiencing homelessness.

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What Happens to Homeless Youth in America?

Young people are extremely resilient and able to heal from severe trauma and go on to live healthy and full lives—if they are able to access housing, basic life needs, connections to caring and supportive adults, and have access to education, workforce development and long-term employment. Depending on what the young person experienced before becoming homeless and their length of time homeless, there is a wide range of physical, mental, emotional and behavioral issues have been shown to develop as a result of youth homelessness and prior traumas are at risk of becoming exaggerated.

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How Can Youth Homelessness Be Prevented?

Prevention is the critical first step toward an effective community response to youth homelessness. Not all incidents of youth homelessness can be prevented, but with appropriate, targeted services, some families and youth at-risk can avoid crisis. Improving the foster care and juvenile justice systems while also increasing supports to youth and families in crisis, does prevent youth homelessness.

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What Works to End Youth Homlessness

What Works to End Youth Homelessness

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Where Can Young People Get Help?

If you or a young person you know is experiencing homelessness, is at risk of becoming homeless, is thinking about running away from home or has a parent or guardian who has threatened to kick him or her out: call, chat online, or text with an expert who can help you or the person you know access available resources.

Call: 1-800-RUNAWAY
Text: 66008
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How Can I Help?

It is great that you are interested in joining the movement to end youth homelessness.  There are many different ways for you to get involved.

  • Volunteer at or Donate to a Local Homeless Youth Program
  • Support Your Local Schools’ McKinney-Vento Program
  • Participate in NN4Y’s Campaigns and Calls to Action
  • Raise Awareness Through Social Media
  • Donate to NN4Y
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Words of Wisdom From Youth Who Experienced Homelessness

Read what young people want you to know about being young and homeless. They are experts.

Homeless Youth Want a Future

I am a homeless youth. I have dreams and goals. I can succeed in life despite the hardships I have faced.

Homeless Youth Want a Safe Place to Live

I am a homeless youth. I may have left on my own because it was safer for me to get out. But I also may have been kicked out of my home because my family didn’t understand or accept me.

Homeless Youth Want Self-Sufficiency

I am a homeless youth. I want to work to support myself. But, I probably need some help building work skills and help finding a job, just like any other young person looking for a first job.

Homeless Youth Want a Connection to Family

I am a homeless youth. I may come from a poor family, or my family may have money.

Homeless Youth Want Help From Caring Adults

I am a homeless youth. I may use alcohol or drugs or have a mental illness. But if I do, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to get help.

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