Homeless Teens – An Invisible Population

Statistics on homelessness across the nation show a continuing problem. Although federal government efforts to target specific subpopulations, such as military veterans, have met with much success, the number of homeless families has risen over the last few years. Additionally, some groups, such as homeless teens, are often left out of counts of the homeless population entirely, and are therefore more likely to be “invisible” to the local agencies and nonprofit groups that could help them.

Teens are statistically more likely to become homeless than adults, with more than 1 million teens currently living on the streets in the United States, according to many estimates. One national advocacy organization reports that some 5,000 homeless young adults die each year because of illness or violence directed against them on the streets, or as a result of suicide. The rate of HIV infection among homeless teens is several times higher than for their peers in the general population. And homeless teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, are at increased risk of facing violence or discrimination.

One out of every seven young people will run away from home at some point, according to the National Runaway Switchboard. About half of the teens surveyed while living on the streets or in temporary shelters reported that their parents had either forced them out of their homes or were uninterested in the fact that they had decided to leave on their own.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has put new guidelines in place for point-in-time counts of homeless individuals, with a specific requirement to count homeless youth as a subpopulation. The federal government hopes through this and other statistical refinements to achieve a more accurate view of the number of homeless teens as a step toward offering them more effective assistance.