Matthew Morton, a research fellow with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, said through a large national phone survey, researchers found that 1-in-10 young adults, between 18-25 years old, was homeless at some point during the last 12 months.
“While this is alarming, it’s not necessarily surprising,” Morton said. “Street-based counts miss young people who are experiencing more hidden forms of homelessness, like sleeping in a vehicle or couch-surfing.”
Morton said 1-in-30 adolescents 13-17 years old also experienced homelessness during the same period. The research found fully one-third of all the homeless young people either were pregnant or trying to raise a child without a safe, reliable place to stay.
He said there are strong arguments to be made for focusing more attention and resources on homeless youth. For instance, many of those who are now chronically homeless started young. But Morton said they could be helped by early intervention.
“The longer a young person experiences homelessness, the harder it is to help those young people,” he said. “And even brief spells can put young people at significant risk of abuse, of exploitation.”
Morton said homeless young people aren’t just hard to count. Traditional research tends to paint an inaccurate picture of homelessness in general. He said 24-hour surveys of shelters, and streets make that population look older and better connected to public services than it really is.
Morton said with funding from Congress, they were able to work with Gallup to run what he described as “the most comprehensive study ever” – a phone poll that reached 26,000 people.
“We’ve never had a nationally representative, population-based survey,” he said. “So, this is unprecedented, and policymakers have largely been forced to operate in the dark.”
Morton said homelessness is more common in already marginalized populations, such as young people of color and LGBTQ youth. While foster placements, juvenile incarceration and teen pregnancy rates are mostly down over the last 20 years, he said they won’t know how the number of homeless young people is trending until they can repeat the survey.
More information and links to the full study are available at chapinhall.org.