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Homeless Youth in America

Homeless Teen

Today in the United States nearly one out of every 30 people under the age of 18 are homeless. That is almost 2.5 million school-aged children who have nowhere to live, or no permanent home. The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the developed world with a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of $16.8 trillion, but it also has the second highest child poverty rate in the developed world (Homeless but not Hopeless: Homeless Youth in America, Philips). The homeless youth in America face many troubles when it comes to education, food, sexual assault, and substance abuse.

Many homeless youth and their families struggle with food insecurity as they have no real way to acquiring and preparing healthy foods. When homeless youth stay at a shelter they are typically proved with meals, and they can also get meals at local soup kitchens in their communities. What food, and how much they can receive can vary from facility to facility leaving the homeless youth and their families with short-term food insecurities. In mid-town Manhattan there is an organization called the Reciprocity Foundation, which opened in 2005, that serves almost 200 homeless youth healthy meals. They even started a vegetarian food program in 2012 (Providing Homeless Youth With a Healthy Meal and a Place to Gather, O’Neill).

Living on the streets and in shelters can put children at a higher risk of physical and sexual assault and human trafficking. 30 percent of youth living in shelters, and 70 percent of youth living on the street are victims of sexual abuse. Over 162,000 homeless youth are victims of sexual exploitation each year (Homeless Youth: Defining the Problem and the Population, NRCDV). Every year almost 20,000 youth are forced into prostitution due to human trafficking (Teen Homelessness Statistics, Covenant House). Along with human trafficking, substance abuse is also a very large risk for homeless children. A study by the National Network for Youth, homeless youth are 3 times more likely to use marijuana and 18 times more likely to use cocaine than non-homeless youth (Unaccompanied Youth Fast Facts, NN4Y).

The youth living on the streets are less likely to graduate than youth who have stable housing. When living on the streets or in shelters, they are focusing most of, if not all, of their resources on just surviving. 75 percent of elementary students who were homeless scored below average when it came to math and reading. That number jumped up to 85 percent in high school aged students. Half of the homeless students surveyed said that at one point or another they had to change school, which can also put the mat a higher disadvantage academically. It is difficult to say the percentage of homeless students that graduate, because only five states (Colorado, Kansas, Virginia, Washington State, and Wyoming) report the graduation rates of homeless youth. From the graph you can see that the number of homeless youth that graduate is far less than the youth who have homes (Hidden in Plain Sight Homeless Students in America’s Public Schools, America’s Promise Alliance).

To improve the lives of homeless youth and their families there need to be more programs in place to help with schooling, food, and education. Communities also need to all come together to ensure that no child goes hungry or sleeps on the street or in a shelter. More resources could be in place for counseling to help with mental health and drug issues. We need to all help as a community because no child deserves to grow up without a safe home.

Hidden in Plain Sight. (2016, June 13). Retrieved from

O'Neill, E. (2016, December 03). Providing Homeless Youth With a Healthy Meal and a Place to Gather. Retrieved from

Phillips, C. (2015, April 09). Homeless but Not Hopeless: Homeless Youth in America. Retrieved from


Statistics on Homeless Youth in America | Covenant House. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Unaccompanied Youth FAST FACTS [Pamphlet]. (n.d.). Seattle, WA: National Network for Youth.

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