Because the government does not count and the public does not see youth who are homeless, there is a perception that youth homelessness is a small-in-scope problem. One study even indicated that only 13% of Americans can correctly define the true scope of youth homelessness in the US, between 3 and 4 million. Put differently, one in 10 youth ages 18-25 and one in 30 youth ages 13-17 experience a form of homelessness over a 12-month period. This shocking figure only worsens when one considers marginalized identities like young parents, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and BIPOC, as well as those who have interacted with foster care, mental health, and juvenile justice institutions.
Zooming in on Chicago, more specifically, it is estimated that 14-16,000 youth ages 14 to 24 are unaccompanied and experiencing homelessness, the vast majority of which are doubled up and navigating their education without a home. Importantly, while Black or African American youth comprise only 24% of Cook County’s population, they account for 65% of the county’s population of youth experiencing homelessness, reflecting racial disparities discussed earlier.
Source: Estimate of Homeless People in Chicago, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Adolescence and young adulthood are considered to be some of the most transformative years of an individual's life and tens of thousands of Chicagoans are experiencing them without a stable home. While Chicago Public Schools have reported a 21.6% decrease (or 3,002 students) in homeless students during the 2020-21 school year, this likely represents a decrease in accurate identification as opposed to a decrease in students experiencing homelessness. There is an enormous need for support for youth experiencing homelessness in the greater Chicago area, and resources must be allocated accordingly.