The current data is limited.  National estimates have found that 1.3 to 1.7 million youth experience one night of homelessness a year with 550,000 youth being homeless for a week or longer.1 However, we do not have current national data because no government or philanthropic entity has invested in national research on homeless youth in America. The most accurate data available is of school-aged (largely minors) homeless youth who are still attending public schools, which does not give a complete picture of the extent of youth homelessness in America, but is important regular and national data.  Also, because of the reasons why youth are homeless and their desire not to become ensnared in either the child welfare or criminal justice system, many young people hide their homelessness and do not disclose their living situation even if asked directly, which makes it challenging to know the true number of youth experiencing homelessness.

88,966 unaccompanied homeless youth were counted in the 2013-2014 school year and in January 2013, American communities counted 46,924 unaccompanied homeless youth living in shelters or on the street.  40,727 were transition-aged youth (48.6% unsheltered) and 6,197 were under the age of 18 (59.3% unsheltered).

There is research underway and we will update our website continually so that it reflects the most recent data and research available.

Where did the 1.7 million homeless youth number come from?

The most recent national study conducted was the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART-2) in 1999 as required by the Missing Children’s Assistance Act (Pub. L. 98–473), which required the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to conduct periodic studies to determine the number of U.S. minors reported missing.

In 1999, an estimated 1,682,900 youth (18 years and younger) had a runaway/thrownaway episode. Of these youth:

  • 21% were reported to authorities for purposes of locating them.
  • 71% (1,190,900) could have been endangered during their runaway/thrownaway episode by virtue of factors such as substance dependency, use of hard drugs, sexual or physical abuse, presence in a place where criminal activity was occurring, or extremely young age (13 years old or younger).
  • Youth ages 15–17 made up two-thirds of the youth with runaway/thrownaway episodes during the study year.
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Homeless Youth in Public Schools Who Lack a Fixed, Regular and Adequate Nighttime Residence

Is the most reliable national estimate of the number of unaccompanied homeless youth who remain in school, the majority of whom are under the age of 18. The U.S. Department of Education, through the McKinney-Vento program is tasked with identifying, documenting and providing transportation and other supports for homeless children and youth, defined as children and youth who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence; and includes those who are sharing housing with others.

Youth who are both sharing the housing of others and stable necessarily fail to meet the criteria to be designated as a homeless student. According to the definition used by McKinney-Vento homeless liaisons, the only students sharing the housing of others who are counted are those who “lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” It is the instability of the situation, for example, the lack of a legal right for them to be in the household, which puts them within the statutorily protected class. Thus, where a student is staying with another family or relatives in a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, the student is not “homeless” under the education definition.

The number of unaccompanied homeless youth counted* by the U.S. Department of Education:

  • 2013-2014 School Year: 88,966
  • 2012-2013 School Year: 78,654
  • 2011-2012 School Year: 59,711
  • 2010-2011 School Year: 55,066
  • 2009-2010 School Year: 65,317

*The youth included in this count are enrolled if they are attending classes and participating fully in school activities.

The McKinney-Vento Act’s Education of Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Act  Program requires school districts to remove barriers to the enrollment, attendance, and opportunity to succeed in school for homeless children and youth. All school districts are required to designate a homeless liaison, pro-actively identify homeless children and youth, and provide transportation to stabilize the educational experiences of homeless students.

Homeless Youth Who Are Unsheltered and Staying in Shelters

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) coordinates annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Counts to find and document the number of people who are living in unsheltered locations and those living in homeless shelters. Couch-surfing homeless youth are not counted. This count is conducted by local communities. Recently, HUD began including youth in these PIT Counts and currently lack specific methodologies or approaches to locate homeless youth (who often avoid adult shelters and congregate in different community spaces than homeless adults). In fact, 2013 was the first year that HUD attempted to count homeless youth. The collaborative YouthCount! conducted in 2013 was a first effort to develop best practices for counting unaccompanied homeless youth up to 24-years-old through the HUD PIT count.

With appropriate training, resources and requirements, communities will likely become more skilled at counting unsheltered youth and youth staying in homeless shelters during HUD’s Point-in-Time count.

One of the primary challenges to achieving an accurate count of homeless youth through the PIT count is the large proportion of homeless youth that are excluded. Who HUD counts in their annual PIT count excludes a large majority of the homeless youth population, couch-surfers, who are homeless youth. The PIT count only counts youth living in unsheltered locations and those living in shelters.

HUD’s 2013 Point-in-Time Count, which included youth for the first time, counted 46,924 unaccompanied homeless children and youth on a single night in January 2013:

  • 6,197 unaccompanied homeless minors (under 18 years old) — 59.3% were unsheltered
  • 40,727 unaccompanied homeless youth (18-24 years old) — 48.6% were unsheltered

HUD’s 2014 Point-in-Time Count counted 45,205 unaccompanied homeless children and youth on a single night in January 2014:

  • 6,274 unaccompanied homeless minors (under 18 years old) — 59.3% were unsheltered
  • 38,931 unaccompanied homeless youth (18-24 years old) — 45.6% were unsheltered

Some communities have conducted youth counts during times of the year that are warmer than January. These counts have counted more homeless youth than were counted in January. Learn more about these communities:

Los Angeles, CA recently conducted both an October and January count in the same year, 2012.

Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services administers the only federal grant program dedicated solely to outreaching to and housing homeless youth in America. Since 2008, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) (42 U.S.C. 5601 note) has required a national study on the prevalence, needs and characteristics of homeless youth in America, but U.S. Congress has not yet funded this study.


1. National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2012) An Emerging Framework for Ending Unaccompanied Youth Homelessness NAEH typology.