On any given night, approximately 35,000-40,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults in the United States find themselves experiencing homelessness. That is tens of thousands of young people under the age of 24, without a parent or guardian, fighting for basic needs. In one year, an estimated 1 in 10 young adults (ages 18-25) and 1 in 30 youth (ages 13-17) experience unaccompanied homelessness according to statistics from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

What is Youth Homelessness?

Defining youth homelessness varies from organization to organization around the country, and determines what kind of service is extended to this group. Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition focuses its efforts on unaccompanied youth (minors under 18) and young adults (ages 18-24) who fit into one of these categories:

  • Youth without a home – youth who are either sheltered or unsheltered. This includes parenting youth.
  • Youth fleeing unsafe situations, such as human trafficking, abuse, and/or domestic violence, without stable housing.
  • Youth living in another person’s home – also referred to as “doubled-up” or “couch surfing” – who are unsafe and at risk of homelessness, including parenting youth.
  • Youth that are exiting institutions into homelessness such as Child Protective Services (CPS) or Juvenile Justice.

Causes of Youth Homelessness

A wide variety of demographic and circumstantial factors contribute to increased risk of youth homelessness. The most prominent risk factors among youth include family conflict, identifying as LGBTQ, school problems, pregnancy and substance abuse. According to demographic research, minorities, primarily African-American and  Hispanic people groups, and single parents often have an increased risk of experiencing youth homelessness. 33% of youth experiencing homelessness had once been part of the foster care system (NCSL). Other elements that escalate probability include poverty, mental health, special needs or disabilities, and involvement in juvenile justice systems.

Impact of Homelessness on Youth

For youth experiencing homelessness, it is often a challenge to meet basic needs such as food and shelter. Youth must forgo education, extracurricular activities, community, relationship-building with peers and fostering mentorships to financially provide for immediate needs. 69% of homeless youth report mental health problems and 29% report substance misuse problems (NCSL). However, most don’t have easy access to services or treatments to improve these circumstances. LGBTQ youth are at a greater risk for sexual exploitation and physical harm than non-LGBTQ youth. 27% of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness reported exchanging sex for basic needs compared to 9% of non-LGBTQ youth (NCSL). Additionally, 62% of LGBTQ youth report being physically harmed while experiencing homelessness compared to 47% of non-LGBTQ youth (NCSL). These impacts merely scratch the surface. They provide a glimpse into the difficulties and trauma caused by youth homelessness.

HOTHC Youth Homelessness Efforts

On October 1, 2020, HOTHC launched the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program projects for the Heart of Texas Region. These projects are funded by a transformational $2.23 million grant from HUD to help people under the age of 25 secure housing. Each of the projects that will be developed and implemented over the next two years are listed below with the associated community partner and a brief description.

  • YDHP Planning Grants 1 & 2 | HOTRMHMR – Part of the YHDP grant is allocated to a planning system for ending youth homelessness in Central Texas including allocated funds for providing compensation to youth with lived experience who will be part of the planning work. 
  • Drop-In Center | The Cove – Funds are dedicated to expand drop-in capacity at The Cove for high school aged youth throughout the Heart of Texas Region. 
  • Drop-In Center | HOTRMHMR. – Funds are focused on developing a drop-in center for homeless youth ages 18-24 at the DOBEY (Drop-In Opportunities Bolstering Engagement for Young Adults) Center. 
  • Mobile Navigation Team | HOTRMHMR. – Funds are focused on developing a mobile, multi-disciplinary navigation team. This team will do outreach and in-reach to youth throughout the entire Heart of Texas Region.
  • Transitional Housing | HOTRMHMR – Funds are focused on providing transitional housing to youth ages 16-17, which will be located at the Youth Respite Center.
  • Rapid Rehousing | HOTRMHMR – Funds are focused on providing rapid rehousing assistance to youth ages 18-24.
  • Rapid Rehousing | Family Abuse Center – Funds are focused on providing rapid rehousing assistance to youth ages 18-24 who are fleeing unsafe situations.

If you would like to learn more about what HOTHC is doing to fight youth homelessness, click here to find many resources with information about our Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Grant. 

Combating Youth Homelessness in Waco