Risk and Resilience: Differences in Risk Factors and Health Outcomes Between Homeless and Non-Homeless Students in 2017 YRBS Data

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was first developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1990 to assess the health risk behaviors of youth and adults in the United States. For the first time since the survey has been widely administered, the 2017 YRBS optional question list included two questions pertaining to homelessness. Using this YRBS data from 17 states (Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin), we conducted an analysis of differences in seven self-reported risk factors and health outcomes between high school students experiencing homelessness and those not experiencing homelessness. The results were striking and heartbreaking.

Broadly, our findings demonstrate that young people experience homelessness at an even higher rate than currently measured by the United States Department of Education. The YRBS indicates that 4.9% of students surveyed in the 17 states experienced homelessness at some point during the 2016-2017 school year, while public schools reported only 2.57% of their students as experiencing homelessness. The significant under-identification indicated by the YRBS means as many as one million students experiencing homelessness are not receiving the services that are their right under federal law.

Additionally, young people who experience homelessness engage in a wide variety of health risk behaviors at significantly higher rates than their housed peers. Youth experiencing homelessness were:

  • 5.23 times more likely to miss school due to safety concerns
  • 5.03 times more likely to be victims of sexual dating violence
  • 5.88 times more likely to be victims of physical dating violence
  • 4.63 times more likely to misuse prescription pain medicine
  • 3.21 times more likely to make a suicide plan
  • 7.19 times more likely to attempt suicide

We supplemented our analysis of YRBS data with qualitative data gathered from youth who had experienced homelessness, including their recommendations for policy and practice. Of the 49 surveyed from SchoolHouse Connection’s Youth Leadership and Scholarship Program and the National Network for Youth’s National Youth Advisory Council:

  • 24.48% missed school due to safety concerns
  • 18.36% misused prescription pain medicine
  • 36.74% experienced sexual dating violence
  • 20.41% experienced physical dating violence
  • 59.18% made a suicide plan
  • 24.49% attempted suicide

Some of the recommendations from young people include: the importance of enabling identification with sufficient staff capacity backed by trauma-informed training; empowering student self-advocacy and access to mental health services; and establishing a culture of care on school campuses.

For more information or if you have any questions, please email Katie Brown.

Editor’s Note:

This paper was presented at the 2018 Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM) conference as part of a panel on “Addressing the Homelessness Crisis in K-12 Education: Examining Multiple Outcomes and Policy Recommendations.” (L to R): Joshua Cowen, Assistant Professor from the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University, Elaine Williams, SHC Young Leader, J.J. Cutuli, Assistant Professor of Psychology from Rutgers University, and Katie Brown, Program Manager, Education Leads Home, SchoolHouse Connection.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This