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Housing Matters: Youth Homelessness December 14, 2010

Posted by abhomeless in The Basics.
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This month in our blog we’ve defined homelessness, discussed Housing First, and looked at veteran homelessness. Today we’re going to take a look at youth homelessness.

As you will learn, youth homelessness has its own complexities and just one blog entry is not enough to address all the related issues, so we will revisit youth homelessness (as well as homelessness experienced by others) in later entries. In future posts, we’ll specifically look at the impact homelessness has on our community and the agencies and groups in Asheville and Buncombe County that work to address it.

Our partners at the National Alliance to End Homelessness have graciously allowed us to repost their informative interview on youth homelessness between Marisa Seitz and LaKesha Pope.  See below:
Marisa Seitz:  [For this blog post I’ll focus on the federal plan to end homelessness] objective eight: Advance health and housing stability for youth aging out of systems such as foster care and juvenile justice.
To learn about youth homelessness [in general, since it is a part of homelessness that goes unseen], I talked to LaKesha Pope, Senior Youth Policy and Program Analyst [at the National Alliance to End Homelessness].

Here are some of the questions I asked her and what I learned:

What causes youth homelessness?

Youth can become homeless for many different reasons, many of them the same factors that cause other groups to experience homelessness. However, the major factors that usually contribute to youth homelessness are family dysfunction and breakdown, specifically family conflict, abuse, and disruption. Many youth enter a state of homelessness as a result of:

  • Running away from home,
  • Being locked out or abandoned by their parents or guardians,
  • Running or being emancipated or discharged from institutional or other state care.

Another reason youth often become homeless is because of systems failure of mainstream programs like child welfare or juvenile corrections. These systems fail to address the needs of those leaving the programs, and consequently the youth end up homeless because they are not able to secure housing by themselves.

What does youth homelessness typically look like?

There are four general groups that homeless youth fall into, and it is possible for them to move between groups.

  • First-Time Runners – Youth in this group can usually be returned to their families or guardians.
  • Couch Surfers – Very hard to identify. They use their social networks to find couches of friends or relatives to sleep on for one night or longer.
  • Service Seekers- Those who seek shelter services, easier to identify since shelters are where counts are done. The most visible of homeless youth.
  • Street-Entrenched Youth – Youth who are on the street for six months or more.

There is no research to support the notion that homeless youths often come from homeless families.

Are there groups within the youth population that are particularly affected?

In urban settings, African-American youth are disproportionately represented, and in rural communities, Native American youth are disproportionately represented.

LGBTQ youths increasingly make up a portion of the homeless youth population as well, often due to parents or guardians kicking the youth out due to their orientation, or due to abuse at home for said orientation.

Why is it hard to count youth homelessness?

Homeless youths are particularly difficult to count because they can blend in well. They often appear as students in most public places. Many youths also don’t consider themselves homeless, such as those who couch surf.

Why do youths aging out of foster care and other systems tend to become homeless?

Poor discharge planning.

Youths “aging out” of systems are disconnected and do not have social networks to rely on for assistance in finding housing or employment. They lack self-sufficiency skills and can often be affected by an emotional condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Systems are also ineffective at checking to make sure pre-arranged housing accommodations stick.

This is the group the new federal plan hopes to end to targets specifically in an effort to end this problem.

How do we try and solve youth homelessness?

First, the same way we try and solve all types of homelessness: housing.

Beyond this, youth also need to be connected with adults that will help them, and given life skills development. One way to administer this is through youth housing continuum. To learn more about this and other applied solutions, take a look at our policy ad practice brief.

Marisa Seitz: These were just a few of the questions I asked, but already I could see a new side of the homeless population that needs to be addressed just as much as any other. If you want to know more, LaKesha gave me a great document that gives lots of information on youth homelessness. It’s a brief but illuminating read – four pages can tell you a lot of great information about youth homelessness. You can find it on our website, here.

If you have questions about youth homelessness or homelessness in general, or about the [National] Alliance [to End Homelessness], ask us at or formspring, where you can see the answers to your questions and many others. One of our goals is to help disseminate information about homelessness, so we are more than eager to answer any questions you might have.

Reposted from a the National Alliance To End Homelessness July, 8,2010 post.

A few last thoughts from the Homeless Initiative: If you have experience with youth homelessness and would like to share your experiences with us, we’d love to hear from you! You can find information on how to contact us by clicking here. More information about the Homeless Initiative is also available on our Facebook page.

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