November 15, 2017
Groundbreaking study on youth homelessness sets us on a path toward action
By Katie Hong
Director, Special Initiatives

We’re excited to announce the release of Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, a groundbreaking national study on youth homelessness.

The report, part of Voices of Youth Count, an initiative of Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, confirms that youth homelessness is a pervasive challenge across the country, affecting young people in the biggest cities, smallest towns, and everywhere in between. Missed Opportunities reveals that one in 10 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, and at least one in 30 adolescents between the age of 13 and 17 experience some form of homelessness over the course of a year.

To arrive at these results, Chapin Hall surveyed more than 26,000 people nationwide to determine if the respondents themselves had ever experienced homelessness, or if someone in their household had. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Chapin Hall’s study is most comprehensive study ever done on the challenge of youth homelessness.

The study found that that certain populations – specifically, African American and Hispanic youth; young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender; young parents; and those who have not completed high school – are statistically more likely to experience homelessness than their peers. Missed Opportunities also shows that young people living in rural and urban communities experience homelessness at similar rates.

This report comes at a critical time. For too long our efforts to end youth homelessness have been stymied by a lack of credible data to guide solutions. Missed Opportunities represents a huge step toward removing that roadblock. We now know more than ever about how many young people experience homelessness, as well as what causes homelessness and how young people experience it.

Here are the key findings from Missed Opportunities:

  • Youth homelessness is a broad and hidden challenge. Overall, of households with 13- to 17-year-olds, the survey found a 4.3 percent prevalence rate for homelessness; a minimum of 700,000 adolescent minors, or 1 in 30 of the total population of 13- to 17-year-olds. Of these reports, three percent included explicit homelessness and 1.3 percent represented the more hidden homelessness experience of couch surfing. (Couch surfing is moving from one temporary place to another.) Among 18- to -25-year-olds the prevalence climbs higher to 9.7 percent, or one in 10 (3.5 million) young adults. About half of the young adults reported explicit homelessness, and half couch surfing only.
  • No two experiences of homelessness are alike. While the concept of homelessness might seem straightforward, it can take many forms. Young people experiencing homelessness have different needs depending on their age, location, situation, and how long they’ve been homeless. Each situation needs the right solution. 
  • Prevention and early intervention are essential. The national survey revealed that about half of the young people ages 13 to 25, who were homeless during the 12-month period studied experienced homelessness for the first time. Youth homelessness must be prevented to be ended.
  • Youth homelessness affects rural youth at similar levels. Before now, little was known about the degree of youth homelessness in rural areas compared to urban areas. Missed Opportunities indicates that youth in rural, suburban, and urban counties experience very similar prevalence rates of homelessness. In predominantly rural counties, 9.2 percent of young adults reported any homelessness while, in predominantly urban counties, the prevalence rate was 9.6 percent. Household prevalence of any homelessness among adolescents ages 13-17 was 4.4 percent in predominantly rural counties and 4.2 percent in mainly urban counties.
  • Some young people are at greater risk of experiencing homelessness. Certain groups of young people are more likely to experience homelessness. The study prompts Congress to consider targeted strategies for these groups.

The good news is, while youth homelessness maybe be a bigger and more complicated than we previously knew, Missed Opportunities also offers concrete steps that can help our country begin to tackle this challenge. Specifically, the report recommends that Congress:

  • Fund conducting national estimates of youth homelessness biennially to track our progress in ending youth homelessness.
  • Fund housing interventions, services, and prevention efforts in accordance with the scale of youth homelessness, accounting for different needs.  
  • Encourage assessment and service delivery decisions that are responsive to the diversity and fluidity of circumstances among youth experiencing homelessness.
  • Build prevention efforts in systems where youth likely to experience homelessness are in our care: child welfare, juvenile justice, and education.
  • Acknowledge unique developmental and housing needs for a young population, and adapt services to meet those needs.
  • Tailor supports for rural youth experiencing homelessness to account for more limited service infrastructure over a larger terrain.
  • Develop strategies to address the disproportionate risk for homelessness among specific subpopulations, including pregnant and parenting, LGBT, African American and Hispanic youth, and young people without high school diplomas.

We’re proud to have partnered with so many incredible organizations to make Voices of Youth Count a reality, including Arcus Foundation, Ballmer Group Philanthropy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Campion Foundation, Casey Family Programs, Dr. Inger Davis, Elton John AIDS Foundation, and Melville Charitable Trust. Voices of Youth Count was also made possible by a grant from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Stay tuned for a post on what Voices of Youth Count means for our on-going work to end youth homelessness in King County.