As a result of the current economic crisis, families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. In 2007, 23% of all homeless people were members of families with children. This number may be even higher if one considers that many homeless families move in with other family members; in terms of record keeping, homeless people who live with family are often excluded from the statistics. Recent estimates state that 1 in 50 children in the U.S. are homeless with half of these children under the age of 5. The composition of the average homeless family is a single parent household headed by an African American female. People of color, especially African Americans, tend to be overrepresented in the homeless population - 40% are African Americans, 11% are Hispanics, and 8% are Native Americans. This is compared with 11%, 9%, and 1%, respectively, of the general population.
There is also a growing number of homeless young people who are living completely on their own. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (www.nationalhomeless.org), homeless youth are "individuals under the age 18 who lack parental, foster, or institutional care." These young people are sometimes referred to as "unaccompanied" youth. The most recent study estimates that there are approximately 1.7 million homeless and runaway youth. This number is equally divided between males and females, with the majority between the ages of 15 and 17. The National Network of Runaway and Youth Services estimates that 6% of homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Additionally the number of pregnant youth is somewhere between 6 and 22% of the population. Five to seven percent of American youths are homeless in any given year (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2007).
Youths often leave home for a variety of reasons including physical and/or sexual abuse, addiction of a family member and parental neglect. One study found that half of the youth in a shelter reported that their parents "either told them to leave or knew they were leaving and did not care" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Other young people become homeless due to family issues including a lack of affordable housing, limited employment opportunities for their parents, and no medical insurance. A history of foster care also correlates with becoming homeless at an earlier age and remaining homeless for a longer period of time.
As a result of a lack of housing and services for homeless youth, they sometimes turn to exchanging sex for food, clothing and shelter. Because of this, they are at higher risk for contracting HIV and/or AIDS. Some estimates place the number of homeless youth with HIV at around 5%, but some studies find that the number may be as high as 17%. Additionally, homeless youth suffer from depression, anxiety, and poor health and nutrition. School attendance is also an issue due to legal guardianship requirements, residency requirements, improper records and a lack of transportation.
Due to the numerous negative consequences of homelessness for young people, more needs to be done to ensure that appropriate services are available in order to prevent these outcomes from occurring.