Primary Sources: Patterns of Youth Homelessness Over Time

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Photograph of three young people talking next to a chain-link fence.

"Finding Shelter: Two-Year Housing Trajectories Among Homeless Youth" (abstract), Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 49, No. 6, December 2011.

What it’s about: This study follows 426 youth, ages 14 to 24, over two years. The researchers were interested in documenting patterns of youth homelessness. They also wanted to find out what factors might predict whether young people find reliable housing or become chronically homeless.

Why read it: This is one of the first studies to look at patterns of youth homelessness over time. It highlights the need for youth workers to take into account how acculturated homeless youth are to street life when identifying the best ways to serve them.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: The authors identified three common patterns:

  1. About 41 percent of homeless youth found stable places to live.
  2. About 20 percent of youth lived in different places for short periods of time.
  3. About 39 percent had no reliable place to stay during the two years of the study.

In other words, youth experiencing first-time homelessness were as likely to become chronically homelessness as they were to end up with stable housing.

Youth who were younger, did not use drugs (other than alcohol or marijuana), and were less involved in common street activities like panhandling or trading sex for money or a place to stay, were less likely to be chronically homeless. Youth who were kicked out or otherwise forced to leave home exited homelessness more quickly than those who left home by choice.

The authors say their findings suggest that most homeless youth will need intensive, long-term support services.Youth workers can help by seeking to reunite young people with their families, whenever possible, and helping them build connections with family members and other caring adults.

Additional Reference: NCFY's Primary Sources column recently featured another study on patterns of youth homelessness, "The Heterogeneity of Homeless Youth in America: Examining Typologies," by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The organization’s website also includes a section on preventing youth homelessness.

(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 these and other publications.)

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