The vast majority of youth do not become homeless by choice. Many different factors contribute to youth homelessness, but studies suggest that there are common paths to homelessness for young people. The majority of homeless youth have either run away, been kicked out of unstable home environments, abandoned by their families or caregivers, involved with public systems (foster care, juvenile justice, and mental health), or have a history of residential instability and disconnection.
For many youth, instability in their homes forces them out onto the streets before they are adults. Common family experiences include child abuse and/or neglect, domestic violence, parental substance use, and family conflict. Ninety percent of youth accessing youth shelters for minors through the federally funded Basic Center programs state that they experience difficulty at home, such as constant fighting or screaming.1
Parental issues and ensuing conflict related to a youth’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is another reason youth become homeless. Youth are kicked out of their home or leave home because it is too dangerous for them to stay. One study found that twenty-five percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth reported family rejection as the reason for their homelessness.2 Another study found that over one-third of youth who were either in the care of social services or who were homeless had been physically assaulted in their homes upon coming out to their family.3
There is a disproportionate number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth among the homeless youth population. Multiple studies have shown that up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBT.4 Our society has changed dramatically in the acceptance of LGBT persons, but some families and community members have been unable to accept these realities. Family rejection for being who you are is enormously detrimental psychologically, and evidence suggests that these young people have increased depression and a sense of futility that leads to risk-taking and even self-destructive behaviors. At the same time, LGBT homeless youth are targeted for even more exploitation on the streets than their straight homeless peers.