About 50,000 youth in the U.S. sleep on the street for six months or more. Homeless youth face unique developmental challenges and vulnerability.

It’s not always easy to identify youth on the streets through typical counts of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness. Homeless youth are less likely to spend time in the same places as homeless people who are in an older age range. They are  often less willing to disclose that they’re experiencing homelessness or may not even identify as homeless. They also may work harder to try to blend in with peers who aren’t homeless.

For the first time in 2013, the Department of Housing and Urban Development called for communities to conduct a youth-inclusive count that would include unaccompanied homeless youth, up to 24-years-old. That year in January, 46,924 unaccompanied homeless children and youth were counted. Given the difficulty of counting homeless youth, that estimate is likely an undercount.

The Alliance estimates that during a year there are approximately 550,000 unaccompanied, single youth and young adults up to age 24 who experience a homelessness episode of longer than one week. Approximately 380,000 of those youth are under the age of 18.  While these are rough estimate made using imperfect information, it is a good starting point from which communities and the federal government can begin to scale resources and interventions.

To learn more about the Alliance’s analysis of the available data on homeless youth, read An Emerging Framework for Ending Unaccompanied Youth Homelessness

While there are evaluations of programs to assist homeless youth, there is very little research comparing interventions and none examining how different interventions address the issues of the different subpopulations. Nevertheless, communities have reasonable evidence to increase support to family intervention efforts and to target existing housing programs to youth with the highest needs.

Ultimately, better, more accurate data must be collected on the number of youth that experience homelessness as well as the effective interventions to end homelessness for youth. Currently, only approximately 50,000 youth per year are served by targeted homeless youth programs. Clearly this falls far short of demand and more resources are needed to respond adequately to youth homelessness and communities should include youth in their long-term strategic planning efforts to end homelessness for all populations.  Communities should work to:

  • Improve the crisis response.
  • Prioritize family reunification or support as the initial intervention.
  • Expand the reach and effectiveness of transitional living programs.
  • Improve data collection and performance measurement.
  • Collaborate with mainstream systems such as child welfare and juvenile justice.



Library Resources

Federal Policy Brief | October 26, 2012
This policy brief illustrates the historical funding of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) since fiscal year (FY) 2001. The brief beaks down the historical funding of each of the three programs. Currently, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) is funded at $115 million. RHYA consists of three programs dedicated to serving youth experiencing homelessness: street outreach, basic center, and transitional living programs.
Webinar | July 11, 2012
On Wednesday, July 11, from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. ET, the Alliance hosted a webinar that focused on host homes and other alternatives to physical shelter beds, as well as ways of improving the responsiveness of the adult crisis system to the needs of youth in crisis.
Solutions Brief | July 2, 2012
The transgender community makes up less than half a percent of the American population but accounts for up to five percent of the homeless youth population. This one-page brief provides guidance for service providers seeking to competently meet the needs of this vulnerable population.
Webinar | June 18, 2012
This webinar discusses the importance of family intervention; the practices used to reunify and connect homeless youth with their parents; and a model designed to decrease risky behaviors.
Best Practice | November 15, 2011
New York City is working to prevent and end homelessness for LGBTQ homeless youth. Recognizing that most runaway and homeless LGBTQ youth will return to their family, New York City is funding two community-based organizations to strengthen youth’s connections to families to prevent and rapidly end their homelessness.
Solutions Brief | November 15, 2011
It is commonly estimated that 100,000 children are victims of commercial sexual exploitation each year. In this brief, the Alliance examines the relationship between commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth homelessness.
Report | October 5, 2011
Annual prevalence estimates for homeless youth in the U.S. have ranged as high as 1.6 million among those aged 13-17 (Ringwalt et al., 1998). In this report, researchers present a history of typologies of homeless youth and also suggest recommendations for further research on this population.
Best Practice | June 17, 2011
First Place for Youth is a nonprofit organization that serves youth who are preparing to age out of foster care or who have recently aged out of care and are experiencing a housing crisis.
Webinar | December 14, 2010
This webinar offers an overview of Hennepin County's youth goals and implementation.
Toolkits | October 20, 2010
The Alliance and the National Network for Youth recommend that communities fully include homeless youth in their local January 2011 Point in Time (PIT) counts by using the strategies in this brief.
Solutions Brief | October 30, 2009
Homeless youth surviving day-to-day on the streets are at constant risk of solicitation and sexual exploitation. Homeless youth are far more likely to be physically and sexually victimized than their peers who are housed, and they are more likely to experience repeated episodes of sexual assaults. This publication reviews the research and practice implications for community-based services.
Solutions Brief | April 10, 2009
This two-page brief provides an overview of the prevalence and experience of LGBTQ youth, causal factors, and risks to LGBTQ youth while homeless.
Solutions Brief | August 10, 2006
This issue brief reviews the key issues surrounding youth homelessness, including causes and characteristics of homeless youth. It also contains an introductory explanation of the youth housing continuum, a development model for stable and supportive housing for young adults and policy implications regarding youth homelessness.