Unaccompanied homeless youth are young people experiencing homelessness who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. 4.2 million youth and young adults experience homelessness each year. The prevalence of youth homelessness is similar in rural, suburban and urban areas.
Homelessness is associated with an 87% likelihood of dropping out of school. At the same time, the highest risk factor for youth homelessness is the lack of a high school diploma or GED. Youth without those basic education credentials are 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness.
Homelessness among unaccompanied youth is most commonly caused by severe family dysfunction, and exacerbated by poverty. Family dysfunction includes abuse, conflict, and substance abuse. Research shows that 20-40% of unaccompanied homeless youth were sexually abused in their homes, while 40-60% were abused physically. Family conflict over sexual orientation and gender identity plays a role in some youth’s homelessness, as an estimated one-third of unaccompanied homeless youth identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. Research also has found a clear link between parental substance abuse and youth running away from home. Family homelessness also contributes to youth homelessness: a recent study of homeless and formerly homeless youth found that 47% experienced homelessness both with their family, and on their own.
Unaccompanied youth are at a much higher risk for labor and sex trafficking, assault and other forms of victimization than their housed peers. Most unaccompanied youth are unable to access safe housing or shelter, for a combination of reasons, including: being too young to consent for services without a parent; fear of child welfare involvement; and the lack of services overall: more than half of those who seek shelter cannot access it because shelters are full. The risks for unaccompanied youth also extend to many infants and toddlers, as research indicates as many as 20% of homeless youth become pregnant. In fact, unmarried parenting youth have a 200% higher risk of homelessness than youth without children.
MCKINNEY-VENTO DEFINITION OF HOMELESS
42 U.S.C. § 11434a(2)
The term “homeless children and youth”—
A. means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence…; and
B. includes —
i. children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; or are abandoned in hospitals;
ii. children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings…;
iii. children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
iv. migratory children…who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).
Pursuing unaccompanied youth should be a focal point of youth-focused programs. Programs should aim to keep unaccompanied youth safe, facilitate access to secure permanent housing for them. This is best accomplished with inter-agency collaboration and strategies that recognize the unique developmental needs and strengths of young people.
What is your program/organization doing to address the needs of unaccompanied youth?