Safe and stable housing is a critical support for adolescent health and development. Yet, many young people in California experience some form of homeless during adolescence. Youth homelessness is a symptom of discrimination, violence, economic instability and other social and economic factors. These factors can also have an impact on young people’s mental and physical health, safety, academic achievement, and access to supports and resources. Unaccompanied youth may be forced out of or leave their homes due to conflict or abuse. For example, youth who identify as LGBT, overrepresented in the homelessness youth population, may be runaways or have been expelled from their homes because of conflict with their families over their sexual orientation or gender expression. Older adolescents often referred to as “transition age youth”, experience high rates of homelessness, often after exiting the foster care, juvenile justice or mental health system without the support to obtain housing and employment. In addition, youth may also experience homelessness with their families, due to job loss or foreclosure or other economic crisis. In California, families make up one third of all homeless persons (1).
It is estimated that about 200,000 youth under the age of 18 and thousands of 18-24 year olds are homeless for one day or more during the year (2). Homelessness, even short periods, can have a detrimental impact on academic achievement. A recent educational assessment showed that just 5% of homeless high school students were proficient in mathematics (3). Homelessness is also associated with poor behavioral health outcomes. In particular, unaccompanied homeless youth are more likely to have poor mental health, particularly those who live on the street for extended periods, experience physical or sexual victimization, use drugs or alcohol, and engage in sexual risk behaviors (4). Academic, health and other programs can support young people who are experiencing homelessness, but ultimately social and economic policies are needed to prevent family and youth homelessness.
This section provides news and research updates on the health status of youth experiencing homelessness, as well as reports and resources about strategies to improve their health.
Data and research are essential tools for raising awareness of adolescent health issues, to plan programs and service delivery, and to formulate policy at the state and local levels. CAHC is committed to maintaining a website that serves as a gateway to a wide array of resources, and regularly updating our site to include the most up-to-date research. Direct links are provided when possible, and abstracts are provided for journal articles.
Navigate to the upper right hand corner of this page for a more in-depth look at this health topic. Sections include research, resources, and youth voices.
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(1) Olmstead, Z., Focusing on Solutions: Family Homelessness. Housing California, 2010.
(2) Foster, L.K., Estimating California’s Homeless Population. California Homeless Youth Project. California Research Bureau, October 2010.
(3) America’s Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness, California. National Center on Family Homelessness, 2009.
(4) Youth Homelessness in California: A Quick Overview. California Homeless Youth Project. California Research Bureau, 2010.