Category Archives: NISMART

How many homeless youth are there?

How many Kids are Homeless?

There is a  Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report to Congress with information on this subject titled Runaway and Homeless Youth: Demographics, Programs, and Emerging Issues which was published in January 2007.  This link is to their 37 page report. 

I think they are being honest when they say this:

The precise number of homeless and runaway youth is unknown due to their residential mobility and overlap among the populations. Determining the number of these youth is further complicated by the lack of a standardized methodology for counting the population and inconsistent definitions of what it means to be homeless or a runaway.

Estimates of the homeless youth population range from 52,000 to over one million.  Estimates of runaway youth – including “thrownaway” youth – are between 1 million and 1.7 million.

Part of the problem of counting homeless youth is that they often avoid shelters and more or less hide in inaccessable areas where they avoid counters.  Some hide out with friends, others take to the woods and alleys, even the rails.  You may have seen an earlier post of mine (Homeless Youth Project) where loose groups of homeless youth ride the rails around the country.  Youth that do come into contact with census counters are reluctant to admit that they are homeless.    

The 52,000 to over 1 million estimates are based on a series of counting attempts through the decades.    A 1987 GAO report estimated 52,000 to 170,000 homeless on any one night.  CDC’s 1992 National Health Interview Survey of youth ages 12 to 17 determined that 5% of those they surveyed had been homeless during some part of the prior year.  That estimate came to more than a million youth that experienced homelessness during that year.

The latest federal survey was conducted by NISMART – (National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children) which was conducted in 1999.  That study found that 1.8 million youth under age 18 left home or were asked to leave home in 1999 (at some time during the year). 

The NISMART-2 study for 1999 shows that:

1.8 million youth under age 18 experienced homelessness

68% were between the ages of 15 and 17 (1,224,000)

32% were 14 or younger (612,000) 

20% reported sexual abuse in the home (360,000)

33% reported family conflict in the home (600,000)

there were about an equal number of males and females

57% were White, 17% Black, 15% Hispanic

about 11,000 were runaway foster children

more than half left home for more than 1 to 6 days

30% traveled 1 to 10 miles from home

30% traveled 11 to 50 miles from home

nearly 99% were returned to their homes

That leaves more than 18,000 that never came back that year.

Another study, reported by Jan Moore,  Unaccompanied and Homeless Youth Review of Literature (1995-2005)  ,  reported 1 million to 1.3 million homeless youth.   I reported on this study earlier, see How many of the Homeless are Youth? 

Also see a forum report I presented in 2006 on the Cobb Faith Partnership site titled:  Homelessness Among Children and Youth – Basic Facts in which 1.35 million homeless children are reported homeless in a given year, according to the National Law Center.    The numbers seem to be centering around 1.3 million with a spread of 300,000 either way.   I feel that the numbers probably fluctuate wildly on any given day in any given year, much like trying to get the average level of a raging river.

Factors Influencing Homelessness and Leaving Home:  Youth most often cite family conflict as the major reason for their homelessness or episodes of running away. A literature review of homeless youth found that a youth’s relationship with a step-parent, sexual activity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, school problems, and alcohol and drug use were strong predictors of family discord.  14% of Foster kids that age out of the system experience homelessness the first year and 25% at sometime overall.   Another report shows 20%.

Of those callers who used the National Runaway Switchboard (a federally-sponsored call center for youth and their relatives involved in runaway incidents) one third attributed family conflict as the reason for their call.  Runaway and homeless youth also describe abuse and neglect as common experiences.  Over 20% of youth in the NISMART-2 reported being physically or sexually abused at home in the prior year
or feared abuse upon returning home.

Congress has funded 102 million dollars for three federal funded programs:

Basic Center Program: To provide outreach, crisis intervention, temporary shelter, counseling, family unification, and after care services to runaway and homeless youth under age 18 and their families.

Transitional Living Program: To support projects that provide homeless youth ages 16 to 21 with stable, safe longer-term residential services up to 18 months (or longer if the youth has not reached age 18), including counseling in basic life skills, interpersonal skills building, educational advancement, job attainment skills, and physical and mental health care. 

Street Outreach Program: To provide street-based outreach and education, including treatment, counseling, provision of information, and referrals for runaway, homeless, and street youth who have been subjected to or are at risk of being subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation.

Those are the facts on homeless youth, the best that I can report at this time.   You can select whatever set of data suits your purpose, but it appears the most current data comes in somewhere between 1 and 1.8 million kids that experience homelessness in any given year, centering around 1.3 million youth.  

There is no good estimate as to how many that amounts to on any given night, but if you are one of those kids, it is way too many. 

Those are our kids out there

Some Special Links:

Click to see all Oldtimer Speaks Out homeless youth articles (35 so far).

Click here if you came here to find Oldtimer’s articles on Homeless Veterans (75 so far)

Grace and Peace,

Oldtimer