Primary Sources: Understanding Trauma and Transience among Runaway and Homeless Youth

Photograph of a young man sitting under a bridge.

Factors Associated with Trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Homeless Youth in Three U.S. Cities: The Importance of Transience” (abstract). Journal of Traumatic Stress, Vol. 23, Feb. 2010.

What it's about: Homeless youth suffer from trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder much more often than youth in general. To begin to understand why, the authors interviewed 146 homeless youth from Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Denver. They found that 57 percent had experienced a traumatic event and 24 percent met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.

Why read it: Suffering traumatic experiences during adolescence can lower a young person’s self-esteem, cause them to lose trust in others, and make them more likely to be revictimized. Understanding how trauma can be compounded through homelessness can help youth workers and clinical staff take steps to treat past trauma and work to prevent retraumatization.

Biggest take away for youth workers: The study found PTSD most often in young people who abuse alcohol, suffer from mania, and believe that they don’t have control over their own circumstances (measured as “self-efficacy”). The researchers also found a strong connection between PTSD and the highly transient lifestyle of some homeless youth. They believe that having to reestablish support networks in new locations over and over again can slow a young person’s recovery from victimization and increase their risk of developing PTSD.

Given how common trauma and PTSD are in the homeless youth population, the authors recommend that all homeless youth, whether on the street, at a drop in center, or in a shelter, be screened for PTSD using a standardized brief screening tool like the Mini International Neuropsychiatry Interview.

Additional reference: For more information on the Mini International Neuropsychiatry Interview (MINI), visit

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

9-5 pm Eastern