Unaccompanied homeless youth are young people experiencing homelessness who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. 1.6 to 1.7 million youth experience homelessness each year. The number of unaccompanied youth identified by public schools has increased by 21% over the past three years. At the same time, homelessness is associated with an 87% likelihood of dropping out of school.
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. Providing appropriate services to keep unaccompanied youth safe and secure permanent housing for them requires inter-agency collaboration and strategies that recognize the unique developmental needs and strengths of young people.
LAW AND POLICY
- Current and Pending State Laws Allowing Unaccompanied Homeless Youth to Consent for Housing and Related Services. Several state legislatures have recognized that unaccompanied homeless youth under age 18 need legal rights to access housing, shelter and other basic services. This document summarizes state laws, including currently pending bills that SchoolHouse Connection is working on with partners in Arizona and Wyoming.
- State Laws Supporting College Students Experiencing Homelessness. State legislatures have been actively supporting college students experiencing homelessness over the past few years. This document provides a summary of existing strong state laws. SchoolHouse Connection is working with partners in Texas on a new state law to support the thousands of Texas students striving to complete college without safe, stable housing. Please contact Patricia Julianelle at firstname.lastname@example.org to share information about other state laws assisting college students experiencing homelessness.
- Vist SchoolHouse Connection’s higher education page for information on federal laws pertaining to unaccompanied youth in higher education.
- Alone Without A Home is a state-by-state guide to laws affecting unaccompanied youth.
- The National Network for Youth also has prepared a state-by-state look at what is required for obtaining not only IDs, but also proof of Social Security numbers, and birth certificates.
The Coalition for Juvenile Justice is leading “Collaborating for Change: Addressing Youth Homelessness and Juvenile Justice,” a national campaign to decrease the overlap between youth homelessness and juvenile justice involvement. In collaboration with project partners the National Network for Youth and the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, the project will generate policy and practice recommendations, training and technical assistance resources, and avenues for greater collaboration across systems.
- The National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth is the technical assistance center for the Family and Youth Services Bureau, working to end youth homelessness, teen pregnancy, and family violence.
- The National Network for Youth is a policy advocacy organization dedicated to the prevention and eradication of youth homelessness in America.
- National Runaway Safeline provides support to youth who have run away from home, as well as their parents and guardians.