Causes of homelessness among youth fall into three inter-related categories: family problems, economic problems, and residential instability. Most often, youth become homeless because of abuse, neglect, or other trauma at home:
- Physical and sexual abuse can lead youth to run away. Estimates vary, but roughly 40-60% experience physical abuse and 20-40% are sexually abused.
- Parental substance use can cause youth to run away from home.
- Conflicts with families are another reason youth are kicked-out of or run away from home. Once homeless, young people are at risk for labor and sex trafficking, assault, and other forms of victimization. They have an 87% likelihood of dropping out of school. Young people without high school diplomas or GEDs are 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness.
Once homeless, youth face many challenges on the streets. Because of their age, homeless youth have few legal means by which they can earn enough money to meet basic needs. Many homeless adolescents find that exchanging sex for food, clothing, and shelter is their only chance of survival on the streets. In turn, homeless youth are at a greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Homeless adolescents often suffer from severe anxiety and depression, poor health and nutrition, and low self-esteem. Furthermore, homeless youth face difficulties attending school because of legal guardianship requirements, residency requirements, improper records, and lack of transportation. As a result, homeless youth face severe challenges in obtaining an education and supporting themselves emotionally and financially.