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May 2016Vol. 17, No. 3Support Services for Homeless Youth

Adolescence and young adulthood is a time for youth to begin exploring what it means to grow into an adult and gain increased independence with time. However, youth still need support and guidance during this critical period to help keep them on a positive track and avoid negative and dangerous situations. This can be a challenging time for youth who do not have strong support systems in their lives, as they may find themselves at increased risk of experiencing negative outcomes, such as homelessness. The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), which sits within the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), administers the Street Outreach Program (SOP), which aims to help get homeless youth off the streets by funding grantees that build relationships between street outreach workers and homeless street youth; provide support services to help youth find stable housing; offer drop-in center allowing youth to access showers, food, referrals to health and mental health care; and facilitate access to other social services for homeless youth.

A new report by FYSB and ACYF's Office of Data, Analysis, Research, and Evaluation shares findings from a study that evaluated the service utilization and needs from a subset of homeless street youth being served by a cohort of 11 SOP grantees funded in fiscal year 2010. Data was collected in 2013 from a group of 656 homeless youth ages 14 to 21 who participated in computer-assisted personal interviews and focus groups, and an additional 217 youth who participated in focus groups only. Key findings include the following:

  • 54.4 percent identified as male, 45.6 as percent female, two-thirds identified as heterosexual, 20 percent identified as bisexual, 9.9 percent identified as gay or lesbian, 6.8 percent identified as transgender, and 4.1 percent identified as "something else."
  • The most commonly reported reason for becoming homeless the first time was being asked to leave by a parent or caregiver (51.2 percent), followed by being unable to find a job (24.7 percent), being physically abused or beaten (23.8 percent), or problems in the home due to a caretaker's drug or alcohol abuse (22.6 percent).
  • 24.1 percent said that they had "agreed to be sexual" with someone in exchange for money, and 27.5 percent had "agreed to be sexual" with someone in exchange for a place to spend the night. One-fifth (20.3 percent) of the participants reported having a sexually transmitted infection at some point in their lives.
  • 60.8 percent had experienced at least one types of victimization while homeless (e.g., sexual assault, beaten up, assaulted or threatened with a weapon, robbed).

The youth interviewed identified the kinds of services they felt would be most helpful in addressing their basic and immediate needs. These included access to safe shelter, education, employment, transportation, clothing, and laundry facilities. However, they also shared that they were unable to access shelter services for reasons such as shelters being full, not knowing where to go, or not having access to transportation to shelters. The report addresses some recommendations and research and practice implications of the study's findings, including the following:

  • Need for investment in more and more flexible shelter options.
  • More intensive interventions and supports are needed to help prevent youth from becoming homeless.
  • Appropriate interventions should target and help further develop the protective factors a youth has as well as identify factors a youth is lacking, for future research.

To access the complete report, Administration for Children and Families Family and Youth Services Bureau Street Outreach Program: Data Collection Study Final Report, visit the FYSB website at (3 MB).