A Systems Approach to Youth and Young Adult Homelessness in America

Because we know that a systems approach to addressing youth and young adult (YYA) homelessness in America is critical, over the past three years we have developed this Proposed System to End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness. This one-of-a-kind resource is designed to provide a practical vision for both local planning and collaboration as well as guide federal policymakers.  Our Proposed System support our marquee publication, What Works to End Youth Homelessness: What We Know Now.

This March 2017 policy brief calls on federal policymakers and agency staff to support the creation of a comprehensive, collaborative, system-based approach to addressing youth and young adult homelessness that is youth- centric and flexible. This support is needed in the form of updated laws, policies and priorities. YYA must have the widest possible door to entry of this system so that whenever and wherever they find themselves, young people can access a safe and secure place to stay and services to help them undergo a safe and healthy transition to adulthood. Our recommendations target the critical need for the federal government to:

  1. Adopt a shared understanding of YYA homelessness so that: data collected by different sources will paint a consistent and accurate picture of the need in our communities and ensure that all young people are able to access the services and housing they need;
  2. Increase investment in YYA-appropriate housing and services so that the gap between need and vital services is closed;
  3. Examine and improve the child welfare and juvenile justice systems so they stop failing to help exiting youth transition with appropriate services and supports, especially stable housing;
  4. Strengthen and support the work of federal agencies to facilitate the effective sharing of resources and remove needless bureaucratic barriers that prevent YYA from receiving the help they need;
  5. Create mechanisms for flexibility in federal programs so that communities can develop YYA accessible and appropriate housing and services that meet the needs in their community; and
  6. Adopt a shared vision of core outcomes to measure success across federal programs that are developmentally appropriate.
Federal Policy Solutions To End Youth Homelessness
Proposed System to End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness
Proposed System
Proposed System


About the Proposed System

Youth and young adults (YYA) are defined by a complex and critical stage of personal growth. Unfortunately, YYA experiencing homelessness lack safety, stability and other basic life needs. Moreover, many of these individuals are unable to access systems, services and resources designed to support healthy development.

For these reasons, YYA experiencing homelessness require a combination of developmentally-appropriate housing and service options. At the systematic level, this approach depends on close collaboration between government agencies, philanthropists and community-based organizations.

To address both the causes and consequences of a national epidemic, our proposed system includes a full range of developmentally-appropriate service and housing options for youth and their families. It empowers YYA to lead fuller, healthier lives. Within this system, youth experiencing homelessness will spend less time worrying about basic needs and more time pursuing education and healthy interpersonal relationships. Collectively, our recommendations provide multiple opportunities for youth to undergo safe and healthy transitions to adulthood.

Although necessarily comprehensive, the Proposed System is still flexible in several ways.

  • It is designed to accommodate all YYA, regardless of how many times or where they enter or exit the system. Policies and outcome measures should be structured to welcome youth back whatever programs they need, whenever they seek assistance.
  • It is envisioned only as a source of general guidance. Local leaders are encouraged to prioritize service and housing recommendations in whichever order befits their community. Likewise, communities should implement a system that responds to local needs and is compatible with population dynamics.
  • It is intended and expected to evolve over time. Although the current version has been reviewed by providers and other experts, we welcome additional feedback. As new research and data becomes available, NN4Y will update our resource accordingly.

To leave comments or suggestions, please use the “Share your Thoughts” feature located to the right.

Share Your Thoughts

  • Drop files here or
    Accepted file types: jpg, pdf, doc, docx, ppt, pptx, png, gif, tiff, tif, psd, jpeg.
    You may upload reports/research to share with us here.