Youth - Overview

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. According to Part 1 of HUD's 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, 36,907 unaccompanied youth  were homeless on a single night in 2015, 87 percent of whom were between the ages of 18 to 24. Given the difficulty of counting homeless youth, this estimate is likely an undercount.

The Alliance estimates that during a year approximately 550,000 unaccompanied, single youth and young adults up to age 24 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

Report | February 6, 2016
The Practice Knowledge Project is a series that explores the approaches most likely to success in reducing the number of homeless youth per  the insights of experienced practitioners in the field.
Federal Policy Brief | June 24, 2014
On June 13, the Alliance submitted comments on the proposed regulations by Administration for Children and Families (ACF) for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs. The comments strongly encouraged ACF to promote RHYA programs’ coordination with other systems of care by joining local Continuums of Care and including youth in local Point-in-Time (PIT) counts, among others.
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.
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.