Ages 13 to 25, who have experienced unaccompanied homelessness at least once during a recent 12-month period.

Since 1974, when Congress first passed what is now known as the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), the nation has recognized its shared responsibility to care for young people who live on the streets or apart from a safe and stable home. This landmark legislation, subsequent changes within statutes across multiple federal agencies, and ongoing national initiatives support a basic set of services for youth who experience homelessness and are at risk of homelessness. In 2012, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) amended the national plan to end homelessness to include a specific Federal Framework to End Youth Homelessness, outlining steps that need to be coordinated across Federal agencies to advance the goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020. However, despite important national actions—and many efforts at the state and community levels—a sizable percentage of American youth continues to experience homelessness. The problem is solvable, but much remains to be done.

Missed Opportunities: National Estimates summarizes the results of a national survey that estimates the percentage of United States youth, ages 13 to 25, who have experienced unaccompanied homelessness at least once during a recent 12-month period. Results show that approximately one in 10 American young adults ages 18 to 25, and at least one in 30 adolescent minors ages 13 to 17, endures some form of homelessness.

Key to understanding these estimates is the fact that young people—like Natalie—often shift among temporary circumstances such as living on the streets and couch surfing in unstable locations.

A national survey also reveals that urban and rural youth experience homelessness at similar rates and that particular subpopulations are at higher risk for homelessness, including  youth who do not complete high school; and youth who are parents.

Previous research shows that the longer youth experience homelessness, the harder it is to escape homelessness and contribute to stronger families, communities, and economies. To exit homelessness permanently, youth require housing and support services tailored to their unique developmental needs. Although many factors drive youth from their homes, including economic hardship, conflict, abuse, and neglect, the young people thrust into this situation share difficulty and uncertainty.

Moving Toward Solutions

Until now, one major challenge to putting solutions in place has been the lack of credible data on the size and characteristics of the youth population who experience homelessness and a way to track how this population changes over time. Without credible numbers and deeper understanding, it has been difficult for the nation to develop a well-resourced and tailored response to address this problem in our communities. It has also been impossible to reliably track the nation’s progress toward its goal of ending youth homelessness. SafeKids helps kids in crisis in Franklin County.

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