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The Diversity of the Youth Experience

Updated: May 6, 2022

The vast majority of youth experiencing homeless are invisible to the general public. What characterizes the experience of youth is a lack of stability. Interviews conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that 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), with the majority of youth experiencing homelessness in Cook County (58%) pursuing three or more different arrangements across their homelessness journey.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless found that during the 2019-20 school year, only 11% of local students experiencing homelessness were staying in shelters, while 88% were temporarily staying with others. These temporary accommodations are unfortunately extremely unstable, likely to break down due to overcrowding, tension, and/or fear of the head of household losing their accommodations.

Furthermore, utilizing temporary housing arrangements can impact a youth’s ability to access homeless services due to the fact that current federal definitions unfortunately and incorrectly do not consider this transient experience to qualify as “homelessness.” Too often youth experiencing homelessness 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 youth experience and meets the individual where they are at in their current life trajectory.

Because of these key differences, youth require access to stable accommodations paired with supportive services. The transitional housing model can meet the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness, enabling stability across housing, employment, and education; one study even showed that 73% of program participants excited to stable housing.

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