Why the Need for an Incidence and Prevalence Study of Homeless Youth

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Federal Policy Brief | September 9, 2011

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The National Alliance to End Homelessness recommends that Congress appropriate a small amount of funding to carry out Congress’s requirement of a study of homelessness among youth. This study would contribute to the effectiveness and efficiency of bipartisan efforts to protect these uniquely vulnerable young people.

The prevalence of homeless youth in the United States is largely unknown. To address this paucity of data about the number of homeless youth, when Congress reauthorized the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act in 2008, included was Section 345: Periodic Estimate of Incidence and Prevalence of Youth Homelessness. In this age of research and evidenced-based practice to improve and eradicate social issues in the United States, an incidence and prevalence study of this vulnerable population is timely and needed. The incidence and prevalence study would consist of the following information:

  • An estimate of the number of runaway and homeless youth;
  • Characteristics of runaway and homeless youth, which should include race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, length of homelessness episodes, and reason for being homeless;
  • Economic and income status; and
  • Barriers that youth identify in accessing affordable housing, affordable healthcare, and income including employment and public benefits, and connections to caring adults.

Increased information would help federal agencies and local communities more accurately assess the scale of the problem and would allow improved targeting of services and interventions. Communities would be able to improve street outreach efforts to get youth living on the street to safe places; to know how to better reunify youth with their families when they come to a basic center in need of help because they have run away from home; and to better prepare youth living in transitional living programs for self-sufficiency by accessing education, employment and stable housing. Moreover, with the study we may be able to further determine the extent to which homeless youth are at-risk of commercial sexual exploitation.

The Alliance urges Congress to fund the Incidence and Prevalence Study, which will cost an estimated $3 million and would allow HHS to contract with a non-federal entity to conduct the study. With a small investment to understand the unique characteristics and needs of this population can better direct appropriations to the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act to move towards ending youth homelessness.