Homeless and Runaway Information

Homeless Teens Homelessness among young people is a serious issue. Homeless youth, sometimes referred to as unaccompanied youth, are individuals who lack parental, foster or institutional care.* The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that on any given night there are approximately 1.3 million homeless youth living unsupervised on the streets, in abandoned buildings, with friends or with strangers.


Homeless youth are at a higher risk for physical abuse, sexual exploitation, mental health disabilities, substance abuse, and death. It is estimated that 5,000 unaccompanied youth die each year as a result of assault, illness, or suicide.**


Data suggests that the current recession has yielded an increase in homeless and runaway youth. Between 2005 and 2008, the National Runaway Switchboard saw a 200 percent increase in calls from youth indicating economic reasons for running away from home. The Switchboard also reported an increase in the numbers of youth who were kicked out of their homes. A 2008 survey of school districts showed an increase in the number of homeless students. It is important to note that precise numbers of homeless youth are difficult to determine due to lack of a standard methodology and mobility of the homeless population.

Studies Have Shown That:
  • One in seven young people between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away>
  • Youth age 12 to 17 are more at risk of homelessness than adults
  • 75 percent of runaways are female
  • Estimates of the number of pregnant homeless girls are between 6 and 22 percent
  • 46 percent of runaway and homeless youth reported being physically abused, 38 percent reported being emotionally abused , and 17 percent reported being forced into unwanted sexual activity by a family or household member
  • 75 percent percent of homeless or runaway youth have dropped out or will drop out of school
Common Reasons Why Youth Become Homeless or Runaways:
  • Family problems: Many youth run away, and in turn become homeless, due to problems in the home, including physical and sexual abuse, mental health disorders of a family member, substance abuse and addiction of a family member, and parental neglect. In some cases, youth are asked to leave the home because the family is unable to provide for their specific mental health or disability needs. Still some youth are pushed out of their homes because their parents cannot afford to care for them.
  • Transitions from foster care and other public systems: Youth who have been involved in the foster care system are more likely to become homeless at an earlier age and remain homeless for a longer period of time. Youth aging out of the foster care system often have little or no income support and limited housing options and are at higher risk to end up on the streets. Youth that live in residential or institutional facilities often become homeless upon discharge. In addition, very few homeless youth are able to seek housing in emergency shelters due to the lack of shelter beds for young people and shelter admission policies.
  • Economic problems: Some youth become homeless when their families fall into difficult financial situations resulting from lack of affordable housing, difficulty obtaining or maintaining a job, or lack of medical insurance or other benefits. These youth become homeless with their families, but later can find themselves separated from them and/or living on the streets alone, often due to shelter or child welfare policies


Consequences of Life on the Street for Homeless and Runaway Youth:
  • Increased likelihood of high-risk behaviors, including engaging in unprotected sex, having multiple sex partners and participating in intravenous drug use.  Youth who engage in these high-risk behaviors are more likely to remain homeless and be more resistant to change.
  • Greater risk of severe anxiety and depression, suicide, poor health and nutrition, and low self-esteem.
  • Increased likelihood of exchanging sex for food, clothing and shelter ( also known as "survival sex") or dealing drugs to meet basic needs. Forty percent of African American youth and 36 percent of Caucasian youth who experienced homelessness or life on the street sold drugs, primarily marijuana, for money.
  • Difficulty attending school due to lack of required enrollment records (such as immunization and medical records and proof of residence) as well as lack of access to transportation to and from school.  As a result, homeless youth often have a hard time getting an education and supporting themselves financially.

    Homeless Children and Youth Definitions


    For purposes of this subtitle:

    (1) The terms `enroll’ and `enrollment’ include attending classes and participating fully in school activities.

    (2) The term `homeless children and youths’—

    (A) means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence (within the meaning of section 103(a)(1)); and

    (B) includes—

    (i) children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;

    (ii) children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings (within the meaning of section 103(a)(2)(C));

    (iii) children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and

    (iv) migratory children (as such term is defined in section 1309 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).

    (3) The terms `local educational agency’ and `State educational agency’ have the meanings given such terms in section 9101 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

    (4) The term `Secretary’ means the Secretary of Education.

    (5) The term `State’ means each of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

    (6) The term `unaccompanied youth’ includes a youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.

    Contact Information

    Donna Cash - Homeless State Coordinator Phone:  573-522-8763 or 573-526-3232  Fax: 573-526-6698 E-mail:  Donna.Cash@dese.mo.gov




Federal Policy
  • The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), administered by the Family and Youth Services Bureau, part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, was first enacted in 1974 and is the only federal law that focuses on unaccompanied, homeless youth. The RHYA, as currently amended, authorizes federal funding for three programs —the Basic Center Program, Transitional Living Program, and Street Outreach Program— to assist runaway and homeless youth.
  • The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 was the first major federal legislative response to homelessness.  Title VII of the Act includes provisions to ensure the enrollment, attendance, and success of homeless children and youth in school.  Under the Act schools must work to eliminate any barriers, such as transportation, that may prohibit students from attending school, and are required to appoint a liaison to work with homeless students and their families.
  • The Chaffee Foster Care Independence Program provides states with funding to support and provide services to youth who are expected to age out of foster care as well as former foster care youth ages 18 to 21.  Funds from the program can be used for housing, educational services and independent living services.
  • The Fostering Connections Act of 2008 increased federal funds available to states to extend assistance to foster youth up until age 21 as long as the youth is in school, working or has a medical condition that prevents them from participating in those activities.  Services can include housing assistance, vocational and college help, and counseling.
Homeless and Runaway Youth: State Policy Options
  • Early Intervention and Prevention Programs: Many youth become homeless as a result of family problems and financial difficulties. As a result, young people often lack the necessary supports to help them find jobs, obtain an education and reunite with their families. States can implement a homelessness prevention program that includes counseling, family reunification services, and rent assistance.
  • Intervene with Already-Homeless Youth: Homeless youth need access to services that will help them regain stability in their lives, such as obtaining a job and affordable housing. States can provide homeless youth with access to educational outreach programs, job training and employment programs, transitional living programs, and services for mental health and life skills trainings.  States can also create commissions or task forces to examine the issue of youth homelessness and offer recommendations to the legislature on how to improve outcomes for young people.
  • Independent Housing Options: Expanding long-term housing options and providing supportive services —such as food, clothing and counseling— are examples of ways that states can help homeless youth. States can create housing programs that respond to the diverse needs of homeless youth. Youth housing programs include group homes, residential treatment, host homes, shared homes, youth shelters, and community-based transitional living programs. It is important to note that youth housing programs are more cost-effective than alternative out-of-home placements such as juvenile corrections facilities, treatment centers or jail. Funding is needed to implement transitional living programs and provide outreach services to keep youth in transition off the streets.  States should foster collaboration between programs and across agencies to ensure that young people's needs are met.
  • Enhance Services Provided by Juvenile Corrections and Foster Care Programs: Each year, roughly 24,000 youth age out of foster care with little or no financial and housing resources.  In addition, there is little attention paid to the housing needs of youth leaving juvenile correction facilities.


Additional Resources

Shelter Policies: When families become homeless, they may become separated due to shelter policies that don't accommodate families, single fathers or children over a certain age (particularly male children). While some cities have family shelters, the number of beds are limited. Child Welfare Policies: When families are homeless and there is suspicion of abuse or neglect, child welfare services may intervene and the child can be removed from the family. If this occurs, the child will most likely be placed into protective services and eventually into foster care. Unfortunately, as discussed, many of the public services available to homeless youth, such as the child welfare system, are fragmented and uncoordinated. As a result, homeless youth often become frustrated and reluctant to enter the system, resigning to a life on the streets alone. 
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