Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regularly estimates the number of people experiencing homelessness. While this exercise does not include a count of young people who are doubled up or temporarily living with others, it identified 45,205 unaccompanied children and youth experiencing homelessness in the United States on a single night in January 2014.
The Problem
A staggering 2.5 million children are now homeless each year in America. This historic high represents one in every 30 children in the United States. Child homelessness increased in 31 states and the District of Columbia from 2012 to 2013. Children are homeless in every city, county, and state—every part of our country.​
​​
Homelessness is a devastating circumstance for any child or youth, but for youth on their own, the stresses of homelessness are multiplied. The myriad of challenges faced by youth experiencing homelessness on their own puts these students at risk of dropping out or school failure. Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney- Vento Homeless Assistance Act (reauthorized under Title X, Part C of the No Child Left Behind Act) guarantees rights and services for homeless students, including specific supports for unaccompanied homeless youth. This brief describes the challenges unaccompanied homeless youth face, explains key provisions of the McKinney-Vento Act, and suggests proven strategies from across the country for supporting the educational  success of this vulnerable population. 

Education Barriers

Lack of safe, stable housing
• Lack of support from a caring adult
• Lack of basic needs, including food and healthcare, resulting in hunger, fatigue, and poor health
• Lack of consistent access to bathing and laundry facilities
• Emotional crises/mental health problems
• Lack of access to school records and other paperwork
• Lack of school supplies and clothing
• Employment that interferes with school attendance and homework
• Irregular school attendance
• Difficulty accumulating credits due to school mobility
• Lack of transportation
• Concerns about being reported to child welfare and/or law enforcement agencies

Identifying Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

Identifying unaccompanied homeless youth is a crucial first step in ensuring that these youth receive the educational supports they need. The identification of these youth, however, can be challenging, as they often avoid identifying themselves for a variety of reasons, including:

• Lack of understanding of the McKinneyVento definition of homelessness, which extends beyond some of the more common conceptions of homelessness
• Desire to avoid the stigma often associated with homelessness
• Discomfort with discussing the circumstances, which are often very personal and sensitive, that led to the student being
homeless and on his/her own
• Fear of being treated differently by school personnel or other students if they are “found out”
• Fear of being reported to child welfare and/ or law enforcement agencies


HOMELESS STUDENTS IN AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Define their own needs, Tell their own stories
Make their own recommendations for change

A Hidden Population, Homeless ​Youth

The Reality of living a life on the street!

Homeless youth who are on their own are a hidden population. Nationally, from 1.6 to 2.8  million young people are estimated to be homeless, and these numbers are believed to be increasing.  The fact that homeless youth are highly mobile, often use services sporadically, and tend to distrust and avoid public agencies, makes it difficult even to determine their numbers, much less assess these young people’s multiple needs. 

Street ourtreach,  Interviews and research from surveys begin to give an 
understanding of their experiences, the services they need, and the changes they would like to see happen in policy or law.    

The youth interviewed ranged from ages 13 to 25, with the majority between ages 17 and 24, and almost evenly split between genders.  The great majority of young people did not seek or choose to be homeless; they were
pushed into it, either because their parents explicitly “kicked them out” of home, or because abuse or family conflict forced them to leave.  

On the streets, young people have to deal both with their own sense of vulnerability and victimization, potential and actual, and the fact that they are generally perceived by the public and by law enforcement as a potential threat or menace rather than as children in need of protection themselves. 



  • Thirty percent of youth had spent the previous night outdoors, on the street, or in a car or vacant building. Twenty-eight percent had been couch surfing at a friend’s house, ten percent were living in transitional housing, and eight percent had spent theprevious night at a shelter.

  • Close to 90 percent said they were trying to change their housing situation; their major challenges were finding affordable housing (over 30 percent) and a job that would provide enough income to maintain that housing (over 45 percent).

  • Close to ten percent of the youth said there was nothing good or positive in their lives right now. In contrast, close to 30 percent cited peer relations and children, and onequarter cited some element of their own internal strength to care for themselves and to survive as positive; another quarter said being employed or being in school was good and positive.

  • Youth respondents reported that people’s perception of them was overwhelminglynegative: they used terms such as lazy, bad kid, troublemaker, bum, piece of s***, lowlife, scumbag, junkie, gangbanger, filthy scum, lowest of the low, worthless, and whore. Only six percent said others had a positive perception of them.

  • Over 20 percent of the youth had regular employment and 18 percent reported income from temporary or odd jobs. Just over 20 percent brought in money by panhandling; the same percentage received income from public programs such as SSI, food stamps, or general assistance. Fifteen percent received funds from family or friends. Eight percent got money by stealing or robbing, seven percent sold drugs, and five percent by prostitution. Other means of generating income included selling plasma, pimping, and making and selling things. 

  • Ten percent brought in $20 or less in a week, around 25 percent received between $20 and $100 a week, and close to 20 percent got between $100 and $500 a week. Three percent reported no income; and income was sporadic for the rest, often cobbled together from a variety of sources. 


SHARE YOUR STORY  
The most effective ways to understand the struggles, challanges and barriers young people face everyday, living on the streets is to:

  • Ask them and Listen to what they have to say 
  • Be their voice- educate others 
  • Sponsor a youth or be a mentor 
  • Join the "Because We Care" Community
  • Donate and help give a safe place to sleep off the street. 


How Many 
Homeless  Youth
  are there in your city?
 
Youth Project
Interactions with Law Enforcement

This area of inquiry was suggested by the youth researchers who described the constant fear and the common experience of encounters with the police as contributing to the sense of danger and hyper-vigilance that often accompanies homelessness. They also described the vicious cycle that the criminalization of homelessness creates and perpetuates – being ticketed for offenses such as sleeping on the street and unable to pay the fines, resulting in criminal records which impede their efforts to find employment and housing, stabilize their lives, and get off the streets by legitimate means.


  • The majority of homeless youth (75 percent) report regular and negative interactions with police. Five percent said these interactions were daily, over ten percent reported weekly occurrences, and around 20 percent reported interactions once or twice amonth. 

  • Despite the reality that homeless youth are frequently the victims of crime while onthe streets, not a single respondent described turning to police for help or reporting being victimized. 




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