The State of Homelessness in America: Trends in Youth Homelessness

It is a generally acknowledged truth that kids can be difficult, particularly teenagers. Homeless kids are difficult, too—but I’m not talking about mood swings or rebellion. I’m talking about data. Counting homeless unaccompanied children (below age 18) and youth (ages 18 to 24) is one of the many challenging tasks that homeless advocates face.

Each January, communities across the country conduct Point-in-Time Counts. These counts give a national snapshot of homelessness on a single night, and are a valuable tool in monitoring trends in homelessness. Point-in-Time Counts are challenging, and they became even more so in 2013 when the federal government mandated that communities begin counting homeless unaccompanied children and youth.

(If you want to learn how to count youth better, check out this webinar on enumerating unsheltered youth).

The reason that counting homeless youth is particularly challenging is that they tend not to congregate in the same areas as homeless adults, so an effective point-in-time count requires outreach that is specifically targeted to youth. We’re not sure how many communities do this, so we’re not sure how reliable the Point-in-Time data on unaccompanied children and youth is.

Despite this, Point-in-Time Count data on unaccompanied children and youth does provide a snapshot of youth homelessness. We included these numbers in our recently released report, The State of Homelessness in America 2015, because we think they’re valuable—but it’s wise to keep in mind that the number of homeless unaccompanied children and youth likely is not accurately represented.

Some of the highlights from the report on youth homelessness, based on the 2014 point-in-time count data, include:

  • There were 5,974 homeless unaccompanied children counted in 2014, 3,720 (59 percent) of whom were unsheltered.
  • There were 38,931 unaccompanied youth counted in 2014, 17,750 (46 percent) of whom were unsheltered.
  • Only chronically homeless individuals are more likely to be unsheltered than unaccompanied children and youth.

As more resources and research are devoted to serving and learning about homeless unaccompanied children and youth, our data will improve. For now, however, it’s important to know that at least 45,000 unaccompanied children and youth—and likely very many more—experience homelessness on any given night.