New Report Explores Pathways Into Youth Homelessness; Elevates Critical Importance of RHYA

This latest brief from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago highlights the findings of the 215 in-depth interviews of young people ages 13-25, in five US counties: Cook County, IL; Philadelphia County, PA; San Diego County, CA; Travis County, TX; and Walla Walla County, WA. The key findings were:           

  • Young people link the beginning of their homelessness to earlier disruptions of family and home, including family homelessness (24%) and entrance into foster care (49%).
  • Young people name multilevel factors—critical conditions—that shaped how pathways through homelessness unfolded. These include personal, relational, and structural critical conditions.       
  • Youths’ pathways through homelessness reflect geographic mobility (69% stayed within their home state and 28% crossed state lines) and fluidity in sleeping arrangements (91% reported two to three different sleeping arrangements during their homelessness).
  • Youth pathways through homelessness are also characterized by significant personal losses; 35% of youth experienced the death of at least one parent or primary caregiver.

In its recommendations, Chapin Hall elevated the value and importance of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) as the appropriate community approach that many of these young people needed in order to end their homelessness. We agree that RHYA is a very appropriate program for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, and that it can be improved with both programmatic updates and increased funding to scale these services to every community in America.

NN4Y Policy Recommendations

However, the findings of these in-depth interviews go far beyond the responsibility and purview of RHYA programs, since family homelessness, child welfare involvement, and loss of a primary caregiver were found to be key pathways to homelessness.  NN4Y is in the process of updating our policy brief, however, our call to action from this 2017 publication remains relevant to our collective work to prevent and end youth homelessness. These recommendations, like all of our work, were collaboratively created with young people who experienced homelessness, community-based youth service providers, and researchers.

We call on federal policymakers and agency staff to support the creation of a comprehensive, collaborative, system-based approach to addressing youth and young adult (YYA) homelessness that is youth-centric and flexible. This support is needed in the form of updated laws, policies and priorities. YYA must have the widest possible door to entry of this system so that whenever and wherever they find themselves, young people can access a safe and secure place to stay and services to help them undergo a safe and healthy transition to adulthood. Our recommendations target the critical need for the federal government to:

  • Adopt a shared understanding of YYA homelessness so that data collected by different sources will paint a consistent and accurate picture of the need in our communities and ensure that all young people are able to access the services and housing they need;
  • Increase investment in YYA-appropriate housing and services so that the gap between need and vital services is closed;
  • Examine and improve the child welfare and juvenile justice systems so they stop failing to help exiting youth transition with appropriate services and supports, especially stable housing;
  • Improve the experience of adolescents in the child welfare system by ensuring there are cared for using a developmentally appropriate, non-traumatic, and youth-led approach;
  • Strengthen and support the work of federal agencies to facilitate the effective sharing of resources and remove needless bureaucratic barriers that prevent YYA from receiving the help they need;
  • Create mechanisms for flexibility in federal programs so that communities can develop YYA accessible and appropriate housing and services that meet the needs in their community; and
  • Adopt a shared vision of core outcomes to measure success across federal programs that are developmentally appropriate.
We are proud to work with our young leaders, local providers and national partners to continue to collectively craft and elevate common sense policy solutions that will have the biggest impact to preventing and ending youth and young adult homelessness in America.