Why Are Youth Homeless?

One thing should be understood at the start. They aren’t there by choice.

There’s a too-common notion that these young people are making some kind of “lifestyle” choice — that they’re rebels and thrill-seekers. But homelessness isn’t thrilling: it is hunger, dirt, isolation, and absolute vulnerability. The small number who set out looking for adventure quickly realize that. If it’s any option, they go home — often, with our help.

For the vast majority, though, going home isn’t an option. In fact, most are fleeing. In a broad survey of more than 600 YouthCare clients, we found that 74% had been physically abused at home — and 39% sexually abused.

A distressing number have prior mental health problems and come from families or communities that could not or would not support them. Meanwhile, there is the chaos of homelessness itself.

Many have been in foster care or other support systems. These are vital programs, but they are strained to the breaking point. Children slip through the cracks or “age out” of services, too often without consistent education or other preparation for what lies ahead.

Up to 40% of homeless youth self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. Most of those were kicked out simply for being who they are.

Then, there are those who have been thrown onto the street by Life. Someone dies, and a family begins to implode. A house burns down, or there’s a natural disaster, and families are scattered. Families walking a tightrope from paycheck to paycheck are knocked off it by job loss or crushing medical bills, and you get what we’re encountering more and more these days: a young man or woman, even a child, who tells us, “My parents tell me they just can’t afford to keep me anymore.”

In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter why youth are homeless. What matters is that these youth here are part of this community — and they need this community’s help. At YouthCare, we’ve been offering just that for nearly forty years.