Youth experiencing homelessness are too often mischaracterized, miscounted, and misunderstood. In reality, the experience of youth homelessness can differ greatly from that of adult homelessness. To effectively combat the issue of youth homelessness in the greater Chicago area, we must first refute three primary misconceptions.
Youth homelessness looks the same as adult homelessness
The Causes of Youth and Adult Homelessness Differ
Youth come to experience homelessness through a variety of pathways that cause major disruption in their lives. The vast majority of youth experiencing homelessness attribute their homelessness to one factor in particular – family disruption. Family disruption can include instances such as being kicked out by family for coming out as LGBTQ+, engaging with or exiting the foster care system, becoming pregnant or parenting, and undergoing family homelessness early in life.
Youth Experience Homelessness Differently than Adults
The vast majority of youth experiencing homelessness are invisible to the general public. During the course of one week, many youth experiencing homelessness cycle through several different types of housing/sleeping arrangements (e.g., couch surfing, shelters, and streets). Too often youth who attempt to seek out the services they need are met by a system that is designed for their adult counterparts instead of a system that understands the transient youth experience.
Youth homelessness is not a common or serious issue
Narrow Definitions of Homelessness Prevent Youth from Accessing Services
Official estimates of the number of youth experiencing homelessness are dramatically underestimated. This can lead to a vast disparity in youth-specific funding and youth access to resources, forcing homelessness services agencies to turn away young people on a daily basis.
Official Counts of Youth Experiencing Homelessness are Dramatically Underestimated
Because of the transient nature of housing for many youth experiencing homelessness, estimates of the issue's scope are often dramatically low, and there is a common perception that youth homelessness is a small-in-scope problem. However, one in 10 youth ages 18-25 and one in 30 youth ages 13-17 experience some form of homelessness.
Youth are defined solely by their homelessness experience
Youth that Experience Homelessness are Resilient, Unique, Self-Motivated, Caring & Hopeful
The experience of living without housing, and the trauma that led to it, does not define a young person. Youth experiencing homelessness have passions, talents, and dreams that motivate them to work towards the life of stability that has been ripped away from them.
Youth Who Experience Homelessness Speak Up and Give Back
Many youth who have experienced homelessness seek out opportunities to use their time, stories, and voices to give back to the communities that helped them along their journeys. They take the initiative to support the programs that supported them during their times of need and make an impact on the next generation of youth who are forced to overcome similar challenges.