For many youths, instability in their homes forces them out onto the streets before they are adults. Family experiences like child abuse and/or neglect, domestic violence, parental substance use, or family conflict can lead to youth homelessness. Ninety percent of youth accessing youth shelters state that they experience difficulties at home, such as constant fighting or screaming.
Parental issues and ensuing conflict related to a youth’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is another reason youth become homeless. Youth are kicked out of their home or leave home because it is too dangerous to stay.
There is a disproportionate representation of foster youth among the homeless youth population. Approximately 12% to 36% of youth who age out of the foster care system become homeless.
Additionally, many young people in the foster care system runaway or are forced out of their foster care living situation due to conflict and/or rejection. Every year, 4,500 to 6,500 young people run away from their foster care placement. Some young people runaway because they want to reconnect with their biological family, and other young people are fleeing abusive or unwelcome foster care placements.
Residential instability is common among low-income families, with residential instability often being a precursor to homelessness—perhaps the worst possible housing outcome for families. Due to a lack of sustainable and affordable housing, joblessness, and residential instability experienced by poverty-stricken families, many youth are forced to find shelter outside of the traditional family dwelling. In some instances, a lack of financial resources may lead to older youth leaving the household to reduce the family’s strain.
In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about “disconnected youth, “also known as “opportunity youth.” Disconnected youth are characterized by their disconnection from education, the workforce, and social support networks are off-track to reach a future that includes self-sufficiency, economic stability, and overall well-being.
Educational systems: Most homeless youth are disconnected from the educational system and have been off-track educationally for an extended period. This can result in dropping out before completion of a high school degree. Lack of high school completion is linked to unemployment and diminished earnings among those who are employed.
Workforce: Some youth are homeless because they are on their own and unable to afford housing due to unemployment or underemployment. The degree of youth being disconnected from the workforce is at unprecedented levels. The picture is starker for homeless youth who had little opportunity to develop the academic credentials, job skills, and work supports needed to gain employment.
Social support networks: Youth and young adults who experience homelessness undergo a disruption in support networks and a sense of isolation. They withdraw from social networks and do not actively seek support to deal with their problems. Individual barriers to seeking services include denial of problems, pressure to focus on basic resources (e.g., food, shelter, clothing), fear of not being taken seriously, concerns about confidentiality, and lack of knowledge about available services.