One in Ten Young Adults Experienced Homelessness over 12-Month Period

Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago released a research brief on youth homelessness, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, National Estimates, which examines the size and characteristics of the youth population experiencing homelessness. The brief finds that one in ten young adults (ages 18 to 25) and one in thirty youths (ages 13 to 17) experienced homelessness over the course of a year.

Previous attempts to collect data on youth homelessness have been challenging due to the transitory and hidden nature of the experience. Missed Opportunities attempts to address these challenges by using data collected from a 12-month period, rather than a single-night count, and employing a broader definition of homelessness that includes youths who couch-surf (moving from one temporary living arrangement to another) in addition to those staying in shelters or sleeping on the streets. The national survey interviewed 26,161 people by phone. Respondents were asked about occurrences of homelessness experienced by themselves (for respondents between the ages of 18 and 25) or a member of their household (for adult respondents living with a young person between the ages of 13 and 25).

Seventy-two percent of youths and young adults (ages 13 to 25) who had experienced “literal homelessness,” such as sleeping in a car or on the street, also said they had couch-surfed during their period of homelessness. Among those experiencing homelessness, 29% reported substance abuse problems and 69% had mental health difficulties. African American, Hispanic, LGBTQ, unmarried parents, and young adults who did not graduate high school were more likely to have experienced homelessness. Of these risk factors, lacking a high school diploma was the most strongly correlated with a higher risk of homelessness. Young adults who did not graduate high school were 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness than those who had graduated.

Approximately one-third of young people experiencing homelessness had been in foster care and approximately half had been in juvenile detention, jail, or prison. The authors suggest that with adequate public support these institutions could provide important entry points for homelessness prevention services. The authors note the need for additional federal resources for outreach and drop-in centers to identify at-risk students. They also emphasize the need to tailor interventions in partnership with homeless youths so that interventions are more effectively informed by the diversity of their lived experiences.

Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, National Estimates is available at: