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Homeless children sleeping in New York City, 1890. Photographed by Jacob Riis.

Youth homelessness is the problem of homelessness of young people around the globe.


Youth homelessness is a significant social issue globally, both in developing countries and many developed countries. In developing countries, research and prevention has mostly focused on "street children", while in developed countries, central concerns in the research and prevention of youth homelessness include breakdown in family relationships and other causes that lead to young people leaving home.[1] The term "street children" also includes street workers who are not actually homeless.[2]

The exact definition of youth homelessness varies by region. In the United States, a homeless youth is someone who is under the age of 21 and is unable to safely live with a relative, and has no other safe alternative living arrangement.[3] In Australia, there are three categories of homelessness which include those who live from one emergency shelter to another (in homeless shelters or 'couch surfing' at friends' homes) as well as those living in accommodation that falls below minimum community standards (boarding houses and caravan parks).[4]

Homeless people, and homeless organizations, are sometimes accused or convicted of fraudulent behavior. Criminals are also known to exploit homeless people, ranging from identity theft to tax and welfare scams.[5][6][7] These incidents often lead to negative connotations about homeless youth.[8][9]


Youth homelessness in Australia is a significant social issue,[10] affecting tens of thousands of young people. In 2006, the Australian government estimate, focusing on homeless school children, found some 20,000 homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 18.[11] Another estimate found approximately 44,000 homeless Australians under the age of 25.[12]

Activists maintain that the majority of young people leave home because of family breakdown, often caused by domestic violence and abuse.[13] Swinburne University researchers found that over $600 million is spent each year on health and justice services for homeless youth.[14]

Researchers have studied the prevalence of psychological distress and mental illness among homeless youth in Australia.[15]

Some experts argue that early intervention services are an effective way to curb youth homelessness.[16] Other researchers have examined the potential solution of youth foyers.[17]


In Canada, youth homelessness is recognized as a significant social issue, however, no nationwide strategy or study has been conducted.[18]

Some researchers focus on the effects of homelessness on young LGBT Canadians.[19] Others focus on various factors of physical and mental health among Canada's homeless youth.[20][21]

United States

Further information: Homelessness in the United States § Youth homelessness, Street children § United States, and Homelessness among LGBT youth in the United States

In the United States, homeless youth are a varied group.[22] Some researchers maintain that around two million young people in America are homeless.[23] According to the National Conference of State Legislature, roughly 41,000 kids and young adults within the ages of 13-25 experience homelessness every night. Almost all of which have reported suffering from at least one of the following; substance misuse problems, mental health problems, foster care, juvenile jail or detention, and physical harm. Many of these individuals have experienced extreme trauma and despair either before or after becoming homeless.

Looking through a demographic lens, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth have more than two times the risk of being homeless than a heterosexual. This can be a result from family problems along with not being accepted by parents or guardians. Females in particular are more likely to “run away” from home resulting in no shelter. [24]

Many actions can be taken to help solve these homeless individuals in the United States. One factor that could make a positive change is re-establishing family relationships. This being the main starting point for homelessness, emphasizing the importance of loved ones can make all the difference. Another more direct action is improving the crisis response regarding these youth and young adults. Whether it’s state-related, or even larger organizations, more plans and evaluations need to be made. [25]

Health risks

Youth homelessness is often accompanied by high-risk behaviors like sex without a condom and drug use. This happens at a much higher rate than young people who have a stable living situation.[26] Even though the risk of infection is much higher for homeless young people, studies have found that only 46% had been tested recently, suggesting that homeless youth are not any more likely to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STI) than their peers.[27] A history of neglect and abuse is common for youth who become homeless, so they often have a deep distrust of adults and other authority figures. Adults wanting to help these vulnerable young people will need to prove themselves to be trustworthy if they want to maintain any sort of lasting connection with them. Effective connections have been formed through offering free STI testing. While outreach for interviews saw a retention rate of less than 40%,[28] similar studies offering free STI testing saw return visits as high as 98%.[29] Readily available comprehensive healthcare will help address STI infection rates, and problems of social isolation for this population.


  1. ^ Stephenson, Svetlana (2001). "Street children in Moscow: using and creating social capital" (PDF). The Sociological Review. 49 (4): 530–547. doi:10.1111/1467-954X.00346. S2CID 143656213. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  2. ^ Raffaelli, Marcela (1999). "Homeless and working street youth in Latin America: a developmental review". Department of Psychology. Faculty Publications, University of Nebraska. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  3. ^ "Defining the Problem and the Population - Runaway & Homeless Youth and Relationship Violence Toolkit". Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  4. ^ "What is Homelessness?". Archived from the original on 2016-09-27. Retrieved 2016-09-25.
  5. ^ Claire Scott (5 July 2016). "Kinahan gang taking advantage of homeless crisis as part of latest fraud scheme". Dublin Live. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  6. ^ Kristin Rodine (5 May 2017). "Georgia man gets 10 months for perpetrating 'Operation Homeless' fraud in Boise". Idaho Statesman. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  7. ^ Kevin Wendolowski (2014). "Fighting fraudsters who target homeless in scams". Fraud Magazine (September–October). Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  8. ^ Nicholas Confessore (24 November 2009). "Homeless Organization Is Called a Fraud". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  9. ^ David Barnett (31 October 2016). "Is Begging Just A Scam, Or A Lifeline For Those Most In Need?". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2022-05-07. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  10. ^ MacKenzie, David, and Chris Chamberlain. "Youth homelessness in Australia 2006." (2008).
  11. ^ "Youth Homelessness in Australia | Department of Social Services, Australian Government".
  12. ^ Flatau, Paul, Monica Thielking, David MacKenzie, and Adam Steen. "The cost of youth homelessness in Australia study: snapshot report 1." (2015).
  13. ^ "Family breakdowns blamed for youth homelessness". 12 April 2016.
  14. ^ "The cost of youth homelessness in Australia - Swinburne news".
  15. ^ Kamieniecki, Gregory W. "Prevalence of psychological distress and psychiatric disorders among homeless youth in Australia: a comparative review." Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 35, no. 3 (2001): 352-358.
  16. ^ Chamberlain, Chris, and David Mackenzie. Youth Homelessness: Early Intervention & Prevention. Australian Centre for Equity through Education, Corner Bridge and Swanson Streets, Erskineville, New South Wales 2043, Australia, 1998.
  17. ^ Beer, Andrew, and Fiona Verity. Homelessness amongst young people in rural regions of Australia. Routledge, 2006.
  18. ^ Evenson, J., and C. Barr. "Youth homelessness in Canada: The road to solutions." Toronto, Canada: Raising the Roof (2009).
  19. ^ Abramovich, Ilona Alex. "No safe place to go-LGBTQ youth homelessness in Canada: Reviewing the literature." Canadian Journal of Family and Youth/Le Journal Canadien de Famille et de la Jeunesse 4, no. 1 (2012): 29-51.
  20. ^ Kirst, Maritt, and P. Erikson. "Substance use and mental health problems among street-involved youth: the need for a harm reduction approach." Youth homelessness in Canada: Implications for policy and practice (2013): 185-198.
  21. ^ Kidd, Sean A.; Gaetz, Stephen; O’Grady, Bill (July 2017). "The 2015 National Canadian Homeless Youth Survey: Mental Health and Addiction Findings". The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 62 (7): 493–500. doi:10.1177/0706743717702076. ISSN 0706-7437. PMC 5528986. PMID 28372467.
  22. ^ Edidin, Jennifer P., Zoe Ganim, Scott J. Hunter, and Niranjan S. Karnik. "The mental and physical health of homeless youth: a literature review." Child Psychiatry & Human Development 43, no. 3 (2012): 354-375.
  23. ^ Helfrich, Christine A., Ann M. Aviles, Chaula Badiani, Deborah Walens, and Peggy Sabol. "Life skill interventions with homeless youth, domestic violence victims and adults with mental illness." Occupational Therapy in Health Care 20, no. 3-4 (2006): 189-207.
  24. ^ Sarah Scherer, S. S. (2019). Causes and Consequences of Youth Homelessness20. Youth homelessness overview. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from
  25. ^ Alliance, N. (2021, April 2). Youth and young adults. National Alliance to End Homelessness. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from
  26. ^ Sexual health disparities between street-involved youth and peers in the general population highlight the need for targeted, early intervention among at-risk youth. ProQuest 1030959958.
  27. ^ Rosa Solorio, M.; Milburn, Norweeta G.; Rotheram-Borus, Mary Jane; Higgins, Chandra; Gelberg, Lillian (2006-03-01). "Predictors of Sexually Transmitted Infection Testing Among Sexually Active Homeless Youth". AIDS and Behavior. 10 (2): 179–184. doi:10.1007/s10461-005-9044-8. ISSN 1573-3254. PMC 2953371. PMID 16479414.
  28. ^ Spiro, S. E.; Peled, E.; Dekel, R. (April 2003). "Shelters for houseless youth: a follow-up evaluation". Journal of Adolescence. 26 (2): 201–212. doi:10.1016/S0140-1971(02)00130-6. ISSN 0140-1971. PMID 12581727.
  29. ^ Grimley, Diane; Annang, Lucy; Lewis, Ivey; Smith, Rev; Aban, Immaculada; Hooks, Terry; Williams, Samantha; Hook, Edward; Lawrence, Janet (2006-11-01). "Sexually Transmitted Infections Among Urban Shelter Clients". Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 33 (11): 666–669. doi:10.1097/01.olq.0000223285.18331.4d. ISSN 0148-5717. PMID 16773034. S2CID 25190926.

See also

Youth homelessness

Alder, C., 1991. Victims of violence: The case of homeless youth. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 24(1), pp. 1–14. White, R., 1993. Youth and the conflict over urban space. Children's Environments, pp. 85–93. Youth Homelessness in Australia, Youth Homelessness in Australia | Department of Social Services, Australian Government