What is homelessness?
Being homeless doesn’t always mean sleeping on concrete. Homelessness is when you don’t have a safe and reliable home to live in. Sometimes people choose to runaway and sometimes they are forced out of their home. According to studies from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there is an estimated 1.6 million to 2.8 million homeless youth in the United States. For more statistics and for a break down of homeless youth by state you can visit the National Alliance To End Homelessness.
Some common stereotypes are that homelessness is caused primarily by rebellion or drug use. In reality, there are a many reasons that people can become homeless. Reasons include:
- Being kicked out or feeling unwanted at home - e.g. coming out as being gay;
- Drug and alcohol abuse;
- Domestic violence;
- Family and relationship breakdown with parents, siblings or extended family;
- Physical or mental illness;
- Physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
What does homelessness look like?
Being homeless also doesn’t just mean living in a cardboard box. Homeless programs and community planners recognize different kinds of homelessness.
Couch Surfing. It may not be as physically rough or dangerous as sleeping on the streets, but sleeping on a different couch every night has its own set of mental challenges. These challenges include a loss of stability, and in some cases the feeling of being a burden to the family or friend that you are staying with. Having a place for personal items is also tough when you are switching to different houses all the time.
Shelters. Shelters are available in most large cities, and at times in smaller cities. On average they exist to fill a gap of housing and are not meant for long term housing. All homeless youth shelters have different policies on how long you can stay. In most cities these shelters can be found through the city hall information center or by calling the non-emergency police number. You can also call 1-800-RUNAWAY for help in finding shelters in your area.
Squatting. Squatters seek out condemned or un-occupied buildings for short term shelter. These buildings usually do not have electricity or water. Sometimes this term applies to homeless people breaking into houses whose occupants are away for long periods of time.
Where to get help
If you are homeless, or feel like you might be at risk of becoming homeless, there are services that can help you find a place to stay, put you in touch with a social worker or find advice about money, employment and, if you’d like, support for longer-term issues.
Transportation and clothing. If you are enrolled in school (K-12) and do not have stable or healthy housing, you have access to the McKinney Vento program. Each school district is mandated to have a McKinney Vento liaison. These liaisons will help you with things like transportation, clothing, and toiletries so you can attend school.
Emergency accommodation and food. If you need a place to stay immediately, call youth helpline Your Life Your Voice at 1-800 448-3000, run by Boys Town for everyone. They have a database of emergency accommodations and food services around the US, many of which are free. The U.S. Department of Housing website can also put you in touch with emergency and refuge accommodation.
Getting home from long distances. If you’ve run away to another city or state and want to go home, Greyhound offers a free ride home. For more information about the Home Free Program, call 1-800-621-4000.
Homeless youth resources and referrals. The National Runaway Safeline offers various services for homeless youth across the United States. The program offers counseling, referrals and general information. For more information call 1-800-RUNAWAY or visit National Runaway Safeline.
- Child Welfare League of America
- McKinney-Vento Act Information
- National Center on Family Homelessness
- National Coalition for the Homeless
- National Runaway Safeline
ReachOut would like to thank Galen Phipps, Director of the Oregon Homeless and Runaway Youth Coalition for reviewing this fact sheet.
Last Reviewed: 1/17/13