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Why do Young People Experience Homelessness?

Updated: May 6, 2022

Youth come to experience homelessness through a variety of pathways that cause disruption in their lives. While the general public incorrectly attributes youth homelessness to substance abuse and mental health issues, in reality, the vast majority of youth experiencing homelessness attribute their homelessness to one factor in particular–family disruption. Importantly, the triggers of instability are no fault of the youth involved.

Common Triggers for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Being rejected or kicked out by family for coming out as LGBTQ+

According to Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, LGBTQ+ youth have 2.2 times the risk of reporting homelessness. In Cook County alone, 21% of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ+. These rates are even higher among youth of color, especially Black youth, who must deal with systemic discrimination in other forms as well.

Engaging with or exiting the foster care system

In one study, 44% of respondents identified foster care as the beginning of their housing instability. Another indicated that over 25% of youth aging out of foster care experienced homelessness. In Cook County alone, 10% of youth experiencing homelessness have been in foster care.

Becoming pregnant, parenting, or experiencing family homelessness

Becoming pregnant or parenting early in life places undue burdens on youth trying to take care of their families and seek out services. Specifically, 44% of women and 18% of young men ages 18-25 experiencing homelessness are pregnant or a parent. Furthermore, the 2021 Chicago Point-In-Time Count in found that a significant portion of the heads of household in homeless families are quite young, with 27 percent between the ages of 18 and 24. This is especially important because Undergoing family homelessness early in life reveals the generational nature of youth homelessness. Approximately ¼ youth in one study experienced homelessness with their families, many of which were struggling with mental health challenges and domestic violence. In other words, many youth simply would not be experiencing homelessness if they had safe, supportive, and stable homes/families to return to.

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