The Crisis of Youth Homelessness

A report titled Missed Opportunities issued by Voices of Youth Count, a national initiative of Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago designed to educate Americans about “the scope and scale” of the nation’s youth homelessness, estimates that in a recent twelve-month period one in 10 young adults ages 18-25 and at least one in 30 adolescents ages 13-17 experienced some form of homelessness.

These teenagers and young adults sleep on the streets, in cars, and in shelters and couch surf.  Many of them move constantly. As with most other poverty issues, black and Latino youth have much higher rates than whites; African-American youth were 83 percent more likely and Latino youth were 33 percent more likely to be homeless than white youth. Unmarried young parents, LGBT youth, and older youth who had not graduated from high school or earned a GED are especially at risk to be homeless.

The report argues that “every day of housing instability and associated stress represents a missed opportunity to support healthy development and transitions to productive adulthood.” While the lack of stable housing “was the common thread in Voices of Youth Count research, the stories of youth homelessness—and the opportunities for intervention—rarely centered on housing alone.”

To combat this crisis, Missed Opportunities recommends better equipping the child welfare, juvenile justice, and education systems to help prevent youth homelessness and calls for increased funding to provide more housing.  Currently, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Runaway and Homeless Youth Act Program furnishes transitional housing for only about 3,000 young people a year, which is a small fraction of the number who need it. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Republican majorities in Congress in December will further reduce assistance to babies, children, and teenagers who are members of low-income families and substantially decrease the funds allocated to homeless youths and to housing programs, health, social services, and education programs that assist low-income youth.

As Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the Children's Defense Fund, argues in a recent email to supporters, “our most vulnerable young people deserve so much more in our rich nation.”  She exhorts us to “improve the odds for unaccompanied homeless youths by being that neighbor who shows interest and kindness to teenagers, volunteering as a mentor or tutor, ensuring local schools and clinics are reaching out to homeless youths, and organizing and speaking up locally to ensure adequate levels of services to meet youth needs in small towns and large cities.”  During the last decade, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs, she points out, have significantly reduced the homelessness of veterans; by concerted and cooperative efforts, we can do the same for youth.  The combined efforts of individuals, communities, and governments are needed to help the next generation prepare for successful futures and to create a more thriving country.

Gary SmithComment