Preventing Youth Homelessness

While homelessness afflicts young and old alike, youth experience homelessness differently than adults and families. Young people are less likely to be on the street or sleeping in shelters. Instead, they experience housing instability - moving from house to house or sleep on strangers’ couches, often in unsafe conditions. The transient nature of youth homelessness makes it nearly invisible and hard to measure, as it escapes typical methods of counting homeless individuals.

And while youth homelessness is widespread, young people in the child welfare and justice systems are at a much higher risk of experiencing homelessness. In addition, LGBTQ-identified youth, youth of color, and young parents are over-represented in the youth homelessness population.

Juvenile Law Center advocates for policy and system reform to prevent youth homelessness. The child welfare and justice systems do not themselves directly cause youth homelessness, but some of their practices and policies may contribute to it. These systems also have an obligation to affirmatively reduce the risk of homelessness.

Youth Homelessness Is Preventable

Involvement in the child welfare or justice system shouldn’t push a young person into homelessness — yet 62% of homeless youth interviewed in 11 U.S. cities had been arrested at some point in their lives. Within 18 months of aging out of foster care, 40-50% of youth formerly in care become homeless.

Youth homelessness occurs most often when systems do not fully understand or respond to youth’s developmental needs — especially those of LGBTQ-identified youth, youth of color, and young people with children.

For prevention efforts to work, child welfare and justice systems must be trauma-informed and staff must be trained in adolescent development. Whenever possible, youth must be provided community-based services in family-like settings. Services providers and agencies must account for youth’s experiences, build upon their strengths, and connect youth to family and supportive adults. 

High-quality extended foster care systems coupled with comprehensive transition planning are effective homeless prevention strategies. Juvenile Law Center works to advance these strategies at the local, state and federal levels.

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Are you in foster care? Aged out of care? Experiencing homelessness or struggling to find housing, employment, health care, or other services in Philadelphia? Youth Matters: Philly is for you.