Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America


Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America presents the results of the Voices of Youth Count national survey that estimates the percentage of United States youth (ages 13 to 25) who have experienced unaccompanied homelessness at least once in the past year. About 1 in 10 American young adults (aged 18 to 25), and at least 1 in 30 adolescent minors (aged 13 to 17), experiences homelessness. Urban and rural youth experience homelessness at comparable rates and various subpopulations are at higher risk for homelessness, including black and Hispanic youth; LGBTQ youth; 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 exit homelessness. This report posits that exiting homelessness permanently requires housing and support services tailored to the unique developmental needs of youth.
Morton, M.H., Dworsky, A., & Samuels, G.M. (2017). Missed opportunities: Youth homelessness in America. National estimates. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Health and Self-Regulation Among School-Age Children Experiencing Homelessness

The primary aim of Health and Self-Regulation among School-Age Children Experiencing Family Homelessness was to examine how psychosocial risk, self-regulation, and health are related during middle childhood among youth staying in homeless shelters with their families. Homeless children experience problems with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral regulation as well as physical health. Self-regulation deficits during childhood predict adult health problems and substance dependence independent of intellectual abilities and social class. The investigators recruited 86 nine to eleven-year- old children residing for more than 48 hours in two family homeless shelters. The results show that several aspects of children’s self-regulation, including task cognitive flexibility, perceptual reasoning, and inhibitory control, predict physical health in 9- to 11-year- old homeless children. Health promotion efforts in homeless families should address individual differences in children’s self-regulation.
Barnes, A.J., Lafavor, T.L., Cutuli, J.J., Zhang, L., Oberg, C.N., & Masten, A.S. (2017). Health and self-regulation among school-age children experiencing family homelessness. Children, 4, 70.

Comparison of Weight-Related Behaviors Among High School Students Who Are Homeless and Non-Homeless

A Comparison of Weight-Related Behaviors Among High School Students Who Are Homeless and Non-Homeless compares weight-related risk behaviors of public high school students in Massachusetts based on homeless status. The investigators obtained data from 3,264 high school students who participated in the 2005 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Multivariable logistic regression, controlling for gender, grade, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation, was performed to assess the relationship between weight-related behaviors and homeless status as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. More than 4.2% of public high school students in Massachusetts meet the federal definition of homelessness (n = 152). Homeless students were more likely than non-homeless students to report disordered weight-control behaviors including fasting (aOR 2.5, 95% CI 1.4–4.5) and diet pill use (aOR 3.3, 95% CI 1.6–6.9).
Students experiencing homelessness are at high risk for disordered weight-control behaviors. Policy decisions at the school, state, and federal levels should help these students with social services and nutritional interventions. In public schools, universal free breakfast and lunch programs are a great first step. Not only do these programs ensure that students can access nutritious meals, the stigma associated with school meals is reduced when all students are eligible. To address unhealthy weight-control behaviors, schools should run interdisciplinary health behavior programs that have been shown to have a beneficial impact, such as The Planet Health and 5-2- 1 Go! Programs. School employees and administrators can encourage relevant policy changes at the state level. Free summer meal programs should be sufficiently funded because they provide a critical safety net to families who depend on school meals during the rest of the year.
Fournier, M.E., Austin, S.B., Samples, C.L., Goodenow, C.S., Wylie, S.A., & Corliss, H.L. (2009). A comparison of weight-related behaviors among high school students who are homeless and non-homeless. J Sch Health, 79(12), 602.

High Burden of Homelessness Among Sexual-Minority Adolescents: Findings from a Representative Massachusetts High School Sample

High Burden of Homelessness Among Sexual-Minority Adolescents: Findings from a Representative Massachusetts High School Sample compared the prevalence of homelessness among adolescents reporting a minority sexual orientation (lesbian/gay, bisexual, unsure, or heterosexual with same-sex sexual partners) with exclusively heterosexual adolescents. Combining data from the 2005 and 2007 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a representative sample of public school students in grades 9 though 12 (n=6,317), the investigators found that approximately 25% of lesbian/gay, 15% of bisexual, and 3% of exclusively heterosexual Massachusetts public high school students were homeless. Sexual-minority children have an odds of reporting homelessness between 4 and 13 times that of their exclusively heterosexual peers.
Although discrimination and victimization related to minority sexual orientation status are believed to be important causal factors in LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, research is needed to improve our understanding of the risks and protective factors for homelessness and to determine effective strategies to prevent homelessness in this population. Professionals working with adolescents should be aware that minority sexual orientation status is linked to a greater vulnerability of becoming homeless. Relationships with family and risk for homelessness should be assessed among youth who identify as LGBTQ+. Future research should focus on developing a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms contributing to the higher risk of homelessness in this population. Likewise, it will be essential to identify factors that protect LGB youths from becoming homeless. This information will help[ to design programs and policies that reduce sexual-orientation disparities in youth homelessness.
Corliss, H.L., Goodenow, C.S., Nichols, L., & Austin, S.B. (2011). High burden of homelessness among sexual-minority adolescents: Findings from a representative Massachusetts high school sample. American Journal of Public Health, 101(9), 1683–1689.