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, a wide range of physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral issues have been shown to develop as a result of homelessness and prior traumas are at risk of becoming exaggerated.

Homeless youth:

  • Are at high risk of developing serious, life-long health, behavioral ,and emotional problems.1
  • Suffer from high rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.2
  • Are more likely to fall victim to sexual exploitation and human trafficking when compared to young people who are not living on the streets.3
  • Are more likely to contract HIV and/or STDs due to increased likelihood of sexual exploitation, rape, and sexual assault.4
  • Have higher rates of a variety of mental health symptoms including anxiety, developmental delays, and depression resulting in elevated risk for suicide attempts.
  • Are likely to resort to illegal activity such as stealing, forced entry, and gang activity in order to survive.
  • Homeless young women are five times more likely to become pregnant and far more likely to experience multiple pregnancies.5
  • Fifty percent of homeless youth ages 16 and older drop out of high school and face extraordinary obstacles in trying to finish. Homelessness is associated with an 87% increased likelihood of dropping out of school (the highest of all risk factors studied).

For the youth who are able to access housing and services, these negative outcomes can be mitigated through the provision of youth-appropriate interventions, safety, housing and connection to caring adults and/or reconnection to family. To learn more about appropriate housing models and  interventions for youth and young adults, read our publication, What Works to End Youth Homelessness: What We Know NOW.6

What Works to End Youth Homelessness

Human Trafficking and Homeless and Runaway Youth

Up to 77% of sex trafficked youth had reportedly previously run away from home.7 As communities strengthen their response to sex trafficking, they are discovering many of the minors ‘rescued’ are homeless youth and/or were involved with the Child Welfare system. Despite the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which absolves trafficked youth from being legally responsible for crimes committed as a result of their being trafficked, youth are still often placed in the juvenile justice system rather than linked to service providers. This response is very detrimental to young people because they are treated punitively as criminals instead of as victims or survivors. Also, community-based service providers are better equipped at providing a therapeutic and trauma-informed response to these young people.


1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Family and Youth Services Bureau. (2013) Report to Congress on the Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011. Retrieved from
2. Id.
3. Id.
4. Thompson, Bender, Windsor, Cook & Williams.(2010) Homeless Youth: Characteristics, Contributing Factors, and Service Options, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 20:2, 193-217. Retrived from
5. Id.
6. Thompson, Bender, Windsor, Cook & Williams, (2010). Homeless Youth: Characteristics, Contributing Factors, and Service Options, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 20:2, 193-217. Retrieved from and Lohmann. (2011). Teen Angst: Homeless Teens, Psychology Today. Retrieved from
7. Seng, M. (1989). Child sexual abuse and adolescent prostitution: A comparative analysis. Adolescence, 24(95), 665-675.