HHS Releases New Study on Homeless Youth

Last week, HHS through the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), issued a Data Collection Study gathered through that Bureau’s Street Outreach Program.  The results provide an over view of the grim circumstances for homeless and runaway youth.

The study indicated:

  • The average youth spent nearly two years living on the streets.
  • More than 60 percent were raped, beaten up, robbed, or otherwise assaulted.
  • Nearly 30 percent of participants identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and nearly 7 percent identified as transgender.
  • Half of youth had been in foster care
  • Youth with a foster care history had been homeless for much longer (27.5 months on average) compared to youth who had never been in foster care (19.3 months, on average).

More than half of homeless youth become homeless for the first time because they are asked to leave home by a parent or caregiver, and more than half say they have tried to stay at a shelter but it was full.  The population was 54 percent male and 45 percent female.  African Americans represented 41 percent of the population with 33 percent white and another 25 percent Hispanic.  A little more than 3 percent were Native American.

In terms of youth that had been in foster care there were significant differences.  Youth that had been in foster care were more likely to have experienced a violent episode versus those that had not been in foster care. Former foster youth had a higher likelihood of being in a mental health facility (47 percent vs 21 percent), were more likely to have spent time in a drug or alcohol treatment facility (17 percent vs 9 percent) but there was no difference between the two subpopulations on whether or not they had traded sex for food, money, drugs or shelter.

In regard to previous child abuse for the entire homeless population interviewed, 56 percent had experienced physical abuse during their childhood.  Thirty percent had been touched in a sexual way by and adult and 20 percent had experienced forced sex.  There was limited difference between males and females in regard to trading sex for something important.  Overall 38 percent of females and 36 percent of males had traded sex for money, food, protection, drugs or a place to spend the night.  The top reason was a place to spend the night with 27 percent of both males and females indicating they had traded sex for such purposes.

The Administration has been seeking funding through Congress to conduct a more detailed study of the homeless youth population.  This study utilized researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who focused on 873 youth ages 14 to 21 in 11 cities. Respondents included street youth receiving services from ACF’s Street Outreach Program grantees and street youth who were not currently using services from SOP grantees.

Within the past year Chapin-Hall has started a Voices of Youth Count campaign to collect original data by interviewing and surveying youth and those around them, conducting quantitative analyses, analyzing existing federal, state, and local policies, and connecting

findings to the existing knowledge base.  The intent is to create an on-going data base on homeless youth.  The survey is intended to go beyond an annual census of homeless individuals and instead provide a steady supply of information on this vulnerable youth.

The Street Outreach Program provides services to runaway and homeless youth on the streets or in areas with increased risk of abuse and sexual exploitation. The program attempts to help young people get off the streets and with local grantees building relationships through the use of street outreach workers. Grantees provide support services to help move youth into shelters or stable housing. Homeless youth also use Street Outreach-supported drop-in centers to shower, eat a hot meal or obtain food coupons, receive hygiene kits, and obtain referrals for medical, dental, mental health, or social services.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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