Updated December 2023.
How Many Youth Are Homeless?
On a single night in 2023:
- 34,703 unaccompanied youth were counted as homeless. Of those, 90.6 percent were between the ages of 18 to 24. The remaining 9.3 percent (or 3,240 unaccompanied children) were under the age of 18.
- 40.8 percent of homeless youth are unsheltered — sleeping outside, in a car, or some place not meant for human habitation.
These numbers are imprecise, and the single night number is likely an undercount. The most commonly quoted number of homeless youth under the age of 18 comes from the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART). According to the NISMART, while over 99 percent of youth eventually return home, many remain away from home for over one week and some remain gone for over one month. Communities are working to improve the way they collect data and their Point-In-Time Counts in order to more accurately reflect the numbers of unaccompanied young people experiencing homelessness.
What Causes Youth Homelessness?
Youth homelessness is often rooted in family conflict. Other contributing factors include economic circumstances like poverty and housing insecurity, racial disparities, and mental health and substance use disorders. Young people who have had involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are also more likely to become homeless.
Many homeless youth and young adults have experienced significant trauma before and after becoming homeless and are particularly vulnerable, including victims of sexual trafficking and exploitation. Youth who identify as LGBTQ; pregnant and parenting youth; youth with special needs or disabilities, and youth of color, particularly African-American and Native American youth, are also more likely to become homeless.
Ending Homelessness for Youth and Young Adults
To end their homelessness, youth and young adults need stable housing, supportive connections to caring adults, and access to mainstream services that will place them on a path to long-term success. Reunifying youth with family or a support system, when safe and appropriate, should be at the core of any approach. Young adults may also require broader education and employment supports, and may need more low-barrier short- and long-term housing options, including rapid re-housing.
- Prioritize family reunification or support as the initial intervention for youth experiencing homelessness. Most youth return home to family, and programs interacting with youth can facilitate that process when safe and appropriate. Basic Center Programs already prioritize this, but other youth-serving programs and coordinated entry systems should also adopt it as an initial focus. Family intervention could also be done earlier to avoid a young person separating from their family altogether.
- Improve the crisis response to serve both youth and young adults. A larger investment is needed from federal, state, and local governments to prevent youth from sleeping on the streets and to more quickly facilitate their reunification with family when possible. In the meantime, communities should also consider alternative models to house youth in crisis so that no young person remains unsheltered, such as more flexible shelter responses, the new CoC TH-RRH joint component, or host homes.
- Expand the reach and effectiveness of housing programs for homeless young adults. More needs to be done to provide youth with short- and long-term housing options when reunification with family is not possible. Rapid re-housing is being effectively tailored for young adults around the country. Available permanent supportive housing programs should be prioritized only to the most vulnerable youth who have demonstrated a need for the most intensive interventions to successfully exit homelessness.
- Developing an effective systemic response. Youth and young adults that are experiencing homelessness have not historically been served within a single, coordinated system. Collaboration across federal, state and local partners is crucial to providing a coordinated community response and the full range of solutions youth require.
Make Rapid Re-Housing Part of Your Community's Solution for Youth
Rapid Re-Housing for Youth is a six-part webinar series designed to help communities learn more about the intervention and how it can be used to end and prevent youth homelessness.Watch
Practice Knowledge Project
Explore the findings and learn from a diverse group of homeless youth practitioners about best practices in preventing and ending homelessness among youth.Learn More