On any given night in 2016, there were 35,686 unaccompanied young people under the age of 25 experiencing homelessness across the U.S. Nearly one-third of these young people were residing in California. This week, in continuation of our Runaway and Homeless Youth Awareness Month blog series, we examine some of the characteristics of youth experiencing homelessness.
Over three-quarters of unaccompanied youth in California are sleeping outside, taking shelter in abandoned buildings, or residing in vehicles or tents.
National and California Data
When compared to the national population of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness, California reports notably higher rates of unsheltered youth. Over three-quarters of unaccompanied youth in California are sleeping outside, taking shelter in abandoned buildings, or residing in vehicles or tents. Only 24 programs receive federal funding under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act for youth shelters in California, and youth shelters funded through other sources are similarly limited. The scarcity of youth shelter beds in the state means that there are frequently no shelters in a young person’s community designed to meet their needs.
2016 Point-in-Time Count Estimates of Unaccompanied Youth, U.S. and California
Point-in-Time Count Data from ASR Communities
While the identities and experiences of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness are diverse and complex, homelessness disproportionately affects young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) and young people of color. In January 2017, ASR completed youth counts in 11 counties, including ten counties in California and one in Washington, as part of communities’ federally mandated biennial Point-in-Time Counts. ASR found that nearly 60% of unaccompanied youth identified as youth of color, the majority (64%) identified as male, and 31% identified as LGBTQ. When compared to the adult population experiencing homelessness, young people identified as LGBTQ at consistently higher rates across communities.
Homelessness disproportionately affects young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) and young people of color.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of youth surveyed reported it was not their first time experiencing homelessness. In fact, 18% of unaccompanied youth indicated experiencing chronic homelessness – a type of long-term homelessness that also includes living with a disabling condition such as a mental health disorder, physical disability, or chronic illness.
2017 Characteristics of Unaccompanied Youth, ASR Point-in-Time Count and Surveys
While the reasons why young people experience homelessness are similarly diverse, family conflict is most frequently cited as the primary contributing factor to youth homelessness. ASR found that nearly one-third of unaccompanied youth report a history of foster care (32%) or domestic violence (32%), and that many attribute their homeless experience to family conflict. While prevention and family reunification services can be powerful interventions in preventing or resolving some young people’s homelessness, these solutions are often under-resourced and many youth are still unable to return to or otherwise rely upon family to meet their basic needs.
Next week, our series continues by highlighting current community responses to youth homelessness—and how you can support ending youth homelessness on #GivingTuesday (11/28/2017).
- Youth.Gov – Homelessness and Runaway
- National Network for Youth – General Information About Homeless Youth in America
- California Homeless Youth Project – Publications & Policy Resource