Children who lack a stable home are vulnerable to a number of adverse outcomes. Some threats, such as poverty and hunger, may precede episodes of homelessness; others stem directly from living without a home. Homeless children are more likely than other children to have moderate to severe acute and chronic health problems, and less access to medical and dental care.Symptoms of asthma, hyperactivity/inattention, and behavior problem are more prevalent among this group. Children without stable homes are more than twice as likely as others to repeat a school grade, be expelled or suspended, or drop out of high school. A quarter or more of homeless children have witnessed violence, and more than half have problems with anxiety and depression. Family homelessness may result in children’s separation from their parents—either because children are formally placed in foster care, or because parents leave children in the care of relatives and friends.
“Unaccompanied youth” are children and youth who are homeless and on their own—that is, not living with their families. This group includes “runaway” youth, youth whose parents encouraged them to leave or locked them out of their home, and independent youth from families where irreconcilable conflicts or loss of contact have made it impossible for them to return home. Many are victims of abuse; many spent time in foster care as children. Due to the challenges in identifying them, unaccompanied youth are often excluded from estimates of the homeless population.
A number of factors contribute to homelessness among children and youth. In surveys of city officials, the most frequently cited reasons for family homelessness are a lack of affordable housing, poverty, and domestic violence; for unaccompanied youth, the chief factors cited are mental illness, substance abuse, and lack of affordable housing Almost by definition, homeless children and youth are difficult to count, as their living situations frequently change. Attempts are made to estimate the extent of the homeless problem in the United States, using various methods, but all have their limitations. For this report, we use data that count children who are homeless and enrolled in school, and also data on homeless children who are served by formal shelters (either short- or long-term) over the course of a year, some of whom are also in school. Because of the different methods used make the counts, the two measurements are not comparable.