There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about “disconnected youth, “also known as “opportunity youth.” Disconnected youth 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. Homeless youth are the most extreme example of disconnection and face multiple hurdles to reconnection.
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. Someone who has not completed high school is four times more likely to be unemployed than a college graduate.
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 disconnected from the workforce is at unprecedented levels. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the overall unemployment rate for young workers ages 16–24 jumped from 8.4% to 24.4% from spring 2019 to spring 2020, while unemployment for their counterparts ages 25 and older rose from 2.8% to 11.3%. 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. Studies show that homeless youth’s ability to accumulate resources through their relationships with others (i.e. social capital) is often associated with improved outcomes.