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 that results in youth being kicked out or running away. Additionally, improving the foster care and juvenile justice systems while also increasing supports to youth and families in crisis, has been shown to prevent youth homelessness.

Often, many young people who experience homelessness had previously been involved in the foster care system, whether it was an investigation (or multiple investigations) with a finding that did not rise to the level of foster care placement or a young person had been in the foster care system. If an abuse or neglect investigation has been conducted and no finding made, it is likely that the family is in crisis in some way and could benefit from additional supports and services. These are opportunities to offer preventative services. In home care and other family-focused services have been shown to be effective at preventing young people from being kicked out or running away from home.

Some community programs reach youth and their families through their schools, offering individual and family case management to prevent runaway behavior, or emergency rental assistance to families facing eviction to prevent family homelessness. Case management might also include connection to educational resources, addressing legal needs, and budgeting and financial management assistance for the youth’s family. Being connected with McKinney-Vento school liaisons is also a vital step in preventing homeless youth from disconnecting from school. McKinney-Vento school liaisons provide transportation, ensure enrollment in school even in the midst of multiple moves and provides other vital supports necessary to enable youth to continue to attend and do well in school.