Families facing economic hardship due to poverty and the depressed economic climate are unable to support themselves and their children. Joblessness coupled with residential instability experienced by poverty stricken families due to a lack of sustainable and affordable housing, force many youth to find shelter outside of the traditional nuclear family dwelling.
Many homeless youth report a history of residential instability that may stretch back to when they were still with their family. One study found that 40% of homeless youth had parents who received public assistance or lived in public housing.15 A family’s poor economic situation can lead to family homelessness. Family homelessness may then lead to a youth being homeless on their own as they grow older or are separated from their families. In fact, some family shelters do not take older youth, particularly males16, which may result in the youth being on their own and on the streets. In other instances, a lack of financial resources leads to older youth leaving the household to lessen the strain on the rest of the family. A youth may move from couch-surfing to the streets or other places, like abandoned buildings, etc., as the effectiveness of their survival strategies in keeping them off the streets wanes. 80% of older youth who enter a federally-funded Transitional Living Program report the inability to maintain housing as a reason for their homelessness, and 35% report insufficient income to sustain housing.17
Becoming pregnant or a young parent can also result in residential instability. Many youth are ejected from their homes due to their pregnancies, and even more homeless youth become pregnant once they are on the streets. Up to 50% of street youth will have a pregnancy experience, and most of those will give birth while still homeless.18 Studies have found that one third of parenting teens have experienced homelessness, with 40% of these surviving on the streets while pregnant.19
There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about “disconnected youth“, also known as “opportunity youth“. Disconnected youth are characterized by their disconnection from education, the workforce, and networks of social support. They are off-track to reach a future that includes self-sufficiency, economic stability, and overall well-being. Homeless youth are the most extreme example of disconnection and face multiple hurdles to reconnection.
Most homeless youth are disconnected from educational systems and have been off-track educationally for an extended period of time. This includes long periods without school attendance or enrollment. This often culminates in dropping out prior to completion of a high school degree. Lack of high school completion is linked to unemployment and diminished earnings among those who are employed. Someone who has not completed high school is four times more likely to be unemployed than a college graduate.20
Some youth are homeless because they are on their own and unable to afford housing due primarily to unemployment or underemployment. The degree of youth disconnected from the workforce is at unprecedented levels. There are 2.7 million fewer jobs currently for youth 16-24 then there would have been if there had not been a recession.21 Just over half of young adults ages 18-24 are currently employed, the lowest it has been since the government began collecting data in 1948.22 And the picture is starker for homeless youth who had little opportunity to develop the academic credentials, job skills, and work supports needed to gain employment.