Panel Paper: Characteristics of Homeless and Unstably Housed Youth Across the U.S.

Friday, November 3, 2017
Wright (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Amy Dworsky1, Matthew Morton1, Jennifer Matjasko2, Molly Mayer1 and Elissa Gitlow1, (1)University of Chicago, (2)Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Growing attention has been paid in recent years to the experiences of homeless and unstably housed youth. Although studies consistently show that these young people are a highly vulnerable population with significant unmet needs for services and supports, major gaps in our knowledge remain about the characteristics of this population and how much those characteristics vary across the U.S. Equally important, relatively little is known about the constellation of service providers that exist in different communities to address the needs of homeless and unstably housed youth. Addressing those gaps is critical to informing the development of federal, state and local policy and improving service provision.

Voices of Youth Count (VoYC) is a national, multicomponent policy research initiativedesigned to deliver actionable evidence on youth homelessness. This paper will include results from a brief youth survey that was administered to homeless and unstably housed youth in 22 counties across the U.S. in conjunction with a point-in-time youth count to collect information about their demographic and background characteristics. The 22VoYC counties were selected using a stratified random sampling approach that was designed to ensure geographic diversity as well as variation in urbanicity and homeless youth services infrastructure.

A total of 4,139 homeless and unstably housed youth completed the brief survey. Preliminary analyses of the survey data indicate that these youth are disproportionately youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQ. Nearly a quarter identified themselves as being pregnant or a parent. A majority of these youth have a history of systems involvement: 27% had spent time in foster care and 43% had spent time in juvenile detention, jail, or prison. Many of these youth were disconnected from education and employment, with almost half of the 18 to 25-year-olds neither working nor in school. Our preliminary analysis also reveals significant variation in youth characteristics across the 22 sites. For example, the percentage of youth who spent some time in foster care ranged from 7 percent to 43 percent and the percentage of youth who spent some time in juvenile detention, jail, or prison ranged from 29% to 61%.

The paper will contextualize the findings with reference to the other VoYC components including a survey of service providers that was administered to service providers in the same 22 communities and will conclude with a discussion of the implications for both policy and practice.