Sobering numbers on homeless youth were released in April, 2016, gathered from the latest study performed by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF). Funded by the Family & Youth Services Bureau and conducted by researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, more than 800 youth were interviewed in 11 cities across the U.S., between the ages of 14 and 21. The study focused on youth that received services from Street Outreach Program grantees and youth were not currently receiving services from (SOP) grantees.
Some of their findings included:
• More than half of homeless youth become homeless for the first time because they are asked to leave home by a parent or caregiver.
• More than half say they have tried to stay at a shelter but it was full.
• The average homeless youth spent nearly two years living on the streets.
• More than 60 percent were raped, beaten up, robbed, or otherwise assaulted.
• Nearly 30 percent of participants identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and nearly 7 percent identified as transgender.
• About half of youth had been in foster care and youth with a foster care history had been homeless for much longer (27.5 months on average) compared to youth who had never been in foster care (19.3 months, on average).
The study revealed the dangers youth face on the street and the need for support services to transition them from homelessness into stable housing and independence.
According to the Family & Youth Services Bureau website, the Street Outreach program is designed to provide basic services to runaway and homeless youth on the streets or that are at higher risk of criminal or sexual exploitation. The goal of the program is to help youth stay safe and off the street and to allow grantees of the program to build relationships between street outreach workers and homeless youth. Part of outreach includes operating drop-in centers where youth can take a shower, get a hot meal, and receive hygiene packets. Youth can receive referrals for medical, dental or mental health services.
Drop-in centers and homeless shelters can provide a moment of relief and sanctuary for youth in need. We have heard stories of youth that are lonely and feeling worthless, or are dealing with stress at home, or may even be pregnant and desperate for help. The stories and this study reveal the need for services provided by street outreach programs and resources for youth in need.
We recently updated our statistics on the number and scale of services provided, and we observed an increase in youth served through our crisis services center. The need for services like street outreach is apparent, and more youth are choosing to connect with services like ours to find options in their area. Studies like these and aggregating data helps illustrate the very real issues that runaway and homeless youth are dealing with.
So What Can I Do?
There are several things that you can do to help support programs that provide services to homeless and runaway youth. Here are some suggestions.
Agencies like these are constantly searching for volunteers. Volunteering for as few or as many hours a week as you wish and make an impact. There are several options to help you find volunteer opportunities. Check out these resources.
If you live in the Chicagoland area, please consider applying to become a volunteer at NRS.
The ACF report shows that the crisis around runaway youth is still very much an issue. There is hope, because of the dedication of those working in social service agencies and volunteers giving their time to provide the services needed. Be aware of how you can support these programs, working together to end youth homelessness.