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Youth Homelessness

Definition: Homeless youth are typically defined as unaccompanied young people ages 12 and older who do not have a permanent place to stay and who are living in shelters, on the streets, in cars or vacant buildings, or are “couch surfing” or living in other unstable circumstances.


Young homeless people often become homeless in order to escape violence or abuse happening in their homes such as physical and sexual abuse and neglect. This includes LGBTQ youth (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or questioning).

Homeless youth may be:

  • Sleeping at a friend’s house or couch surfing
  • Riding the subway or staying on the street
  • Trading work or sex for a place to stay or other needed resources
  • Living in a car, sleeping in parks, abandoned buildings, or other public places
  • Staying in a crisis shelter or transitional shelter
  • Staying at someone else’s NYCHA or supportive housing apartment although not allowed to be there
  • Forced to leave their home with nowhere to go

Pathways to youth homelessness can include:

  • Systemic issues:
    • Due to a lack of affordable, safe and stable housing, youth may spend time in unstable temporary housing options, including family shelters, before becoming unaccompanied;
    • Youth experience unstable foster care placements or are discharged from foster care due to age
    • The historical and current impact of racism has limited the access to affordable housing and living wage employment for people of color
    • Gentrification of urban areas has increased housing costs beyond the means of poor families
  • Family issues:
    • Youth may leave home after years of physical and sexual abuse, parental neglect, strained relationships, addiction of a family member; family inability to provide for the youth’s specific mental health or disability needs
    • Family intolerance about sexual orientation or gender identity may result in a young person leaving or being told to leave
  • Economic issues:
    • Families suffer financial crises that lead to separation from the family;
    • A youth choosing to or asked to leave the family as a response to overcrowding;
    • Long term experiences of family poverty that make it difficult for families and youth to rise out of poverty

Statistics and Facts

National Homeless Youth Statistics

  • Overall, unaccompanied homeless youth represent 7% of the total homeless population in the United States. (HUD, 2015)*
    • On a single night in 2015, there were approximately 36,907 unaccompanied homeless youth throughout all of the United States. (HUD, 2015)
      • 87% or 32,240 individuals were youth between the ages of 18 and 24. (HUD, 2015)
      • 13% or 4,667 individuals were children under the age of 18. (HUD, 2015)

Reasons for Homelessness – Young People in New York City

The 2013 count of homeless youth in New York City (performed on a single night in January 2013), captured the prevalent circumstances cited by youth as the reasons behind their homelessness. (NYC CCoC, 2013)

  • 34% – Physical, mental or sexual abuse
  • 34% – Fighting frequently with parents
  • 31% – Kicked out of home
  • 26% – Neglect, parent not meeting basic needs
  • 20% – Not willing to live by parents’ rules
  • 20% – Parents’ use of drugs or alcohol

Unstably Housed and Homeless Youth in New York City Statistics

  • On a single night in January 2015, New York State had approximately 2,493 unaccompanied homeless youth who were between the ages of 18 and 24. (HUD, 2015)
  • On a single night in January 2015 the New York City mayor’s office identified a total of 317 unstably housed individuals. (CIDI 2015)*
    • This included youth in:
      • Shelters
      • Drop-in centers
      • Transitional living programs
      • Church beds
      • Friend’s place or couch surfing
      • Hospitals, jails, juvenile detention, mental health facilities, group homes
      • Temporary places where they traded sex or were forced to have sex for shelter
  • Of these individuals:
    • Age:
      • 4% are under 18
      • 44% are 18-20
      • 52% are 21-24
    • Gender:
      • 53% male
      • 38% female
      • 1% trans-female
      • 2% trans-male
    • Race/ethnicity:
      • 38% African American
      • 25% Hispanic
      • 8% White
      • 20% Two or more races
    • Sexual orientation:
      • 51% straight
      • 44% LGBTQ

* Youth homelessness is often underreported and extremely difficult to track.

Streetwork Transgender Support Group Asks What’s The T?

What’s the T?” is a support group run by Streetwork Project — Safe Horizon’s homeless youth program — that provides a safe, judgement-free space where transgender and gender non-conforming homeless youth can feel free to be themselves.
Read more about "What's The T?" →

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Our Impact

22,000 contacts with homeless young people in 2015 were made through Streetwork Project’s two drop-in centers, residential program, and street outreach services.