Skip to main content

Youth Homelessness: The Sum of Our Parts

Evidence Matters Banner Image

Spring 2022   


Youth Homelessness: The Sum of Our Parts


      • According to research by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, as many as 4.2 million U.S. youth aged 13 to 25 experience homelessness each year.
      • Causes, experiences, and consequences of youth homelessness are varied and can be better understood through a lens of intersectionality — examining how these factors are shaped by different and intersecting identities.
      • Incorporating an intersectional framework into policy design and practice can lead to programs and interventions for youth experiencing homelessness that meet the full complexity and nuances of their needs.

According to the groundbreaking Voices of Youth Count survey by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, as many as 4.2 million U.S. youth — 1 in 10 young adults aged 18 to 25 and at least 1 in 30 adolescent minors aged 13 to 17 — experience some degree of homelessness or deep housing insecurity each year, including spending time on the streets or in shelters, couch surfing, and doubling up.1 The causes, consequences, and experiences of homelessness among youth vary widely based on a number of factors, including their characteristics and identities as well as their intersections. Although no two experiences of homelessness are exactly the same, youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and the range of other ways people choose to identify (LGBTQ+); youth who are pregnant or parenting; African-American youth; and youth aging out of the foster care system are disproportionately likely to face certain challenges.2 Youth experiencing homelessness who identify with one or more subpopulations experience a distinct combination of barriers, challenges, and risks that service providers need to acknowledge to best address their homelessness. This article reviews youth homelessness in the United States and explores how an intersectional framework that acknowledges the complex interplay of social categories of identity, discrimination, and systems of oppression that shape the experiences of homeless youth can inform more effective responses.

Defining Youth Homelessness

Different organizations — and even different federal agencies — define and categorize youth homelessness differently. For the sake of consistency and clarity, unless otherwise noted, this article will use the definitions outlined in HUD’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR). AHAR defines the experience of homelessness as “lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”3 The report categorizes individuals who stay in emergency shelters (facilities designated as temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness) or safe havens (projects that provide temporary shelter and services for hard-to-serve individuals) or who are in transitional housing programs as experiencing sheltered homelessness.

HUD’s Foster Youth to Independence program provides vouchers to youth exiting foster care, a population at high risk of experiencing homelessness.
HUD’s Foster Youth to Independence program provides vouchers to youth exiting foster care, a population at high risk of experiencing homelessness. Photo courtesy of The Night Ministry

The report classifies people as experiencing unsheltered homelessness if their primary nighttime location is “a public or private place not designated for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for people,” such as a vehicle, park, or street.4

AHAR divides youth into two categories: those under age 18 and those aged 18 to 24. Using these definitions of homelessness and youth, AHAR defines “unaccompanied homeless youth (under 18)” as “people in households with only children who are not part of a family with children or accompanied by their parent or guardian during their episode of homelessness, and who are under the age of 18,” and “unaccompanied homeless youth (18–24)” as “people in households without children who are not part of a family with children or accompanied by their parent or accompanied by their parent or guardian during their episode of homelessness, and who are between the ages of 18 and 24.” A special category of youth experiencing homelessness is parenting youth — people under age 25 who are parents or guardians of one or more children who are sleeping in the same place as that parent or guardian.5

Although these definitions delineate meaningful distinctions and correspond with the prevalence counts cited below, they cannot capture the entire spectrum of experiences. Other forms of housing instability, such as couch surfing, are not included in AHAR’s definitions of homelessness, although they are classified as homelessness according to others’ definitions. The shelters or emergency housing where youth experiencing homelessness may stay can range from large congregate areas to smaller rooms to hotels (with the help of vouchers).

Prevalence and Demographics

There are many challenges to accurately counting the size and demographics of the population experiencing homelessness, including youth. Point-in-Time (PIT) counts — estimates conducted by local Continuums of Care on one night in the last week of January each year — provide a useful, if imperfect, measure of the prevalence of homelessness. PIT counts can miss less visible forms of homelessness, contributing to a lack of credible and reliable data for tracking unsheltered youth experiencing homelessness.6 This article will cite information on the prevalence and demographics of youth experiencing homelessness in the categories designated in the AHAR PIT counts as well as Chapin Hall’s Voices of Youth Count survey and other studies.

The 2020 PIT count estimated that the total population of unaccompanied youth in the United States was 34,210, slightly more than 6 percent of the total number of people experiencing homelessness. The number of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness has declined 11 percent nationally since 2017, the first year that this population was enumerated in the PIT count; this figure includes a 7 percent decline in the number of those sheltered and a 14 percent decline in the number of those unsheltered. Nine out of 10 unaccompanied homeless youth identified in January 2020, or 30,821 people, were between the ages of 18 and 24, and 3,389 were under age 18. Slightly more than half of unaccompanied homeless youth were unsheltered, and 7,335 youth were experiencing homelessness as parents, with at least one child under the age of 18.7 Many communities did not conduct an unsheltered count in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 PIT count found 15,763 sheltered unaccompanied youth, down from 17,271 in 2020. Ninety-two percent of sheltered unaccompanied youth were between the ages of 18 and 24.8

In 2018, instead of conducting the annual PIT count, HUD used a different methodology to estimate youth homelessness: the Longitudinal Systems Analysis, which uses data that communities report to HUD through their Homeless Management Information Systems. This method found that an estimated 113,330 unaccompanied youth aged 25 and younger used a shelter, transitional housing program, or safe haven at some point between September 30, 2017, and September 30, 2018.9 The 2018 AHAR also reported data from state educational agencies whose definition of homelessness includes those sheltered, unsheltered, in a hotel or motel, or doubled up because of financial hardship. During the 2017–2018 academic year, 1,117,144 students between age 3 and 12th grade were doubled up at some point; 105,574 were in hotels or motels; 102,527 were unsheltered; and 182,659 were in shelters, transitional housing, or awaiting foster care placement.10

Using a similarly broad definition of homelessness, including couch surfing and doubling up, Chapin Hall researchers found that over a 12-month period, 4.3 percent of households with 13- to 17-year-olds and 12.5 percent of households with 18- to-25-year-olds reported experiencing homelessness.11 Nationally, these figures suggest that at least 700,000 13- to 17-year-olds and more than 3.5 million 18- to 25-year-olds experienced homelessness in the year before the survey.12

Various studies have found that youth and children in families experience a range of durations of homelessness, from bridged runs (in which a youth leaves out-of-home foster care for 7 or fewer days before returning) to stretches of homelessness of a year or longer. A small-sample 2009 survey found an average of 26 months of homelessness for youth living on the streets; another survey with a larger but still modest sample size found that youth aged 18 to 21 had been homeless for a cumulative average of 16.4 months.13

Some researchers suspect that youth homelessness increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, which likely left youth experiencing homelessness undercounted as well as separated from the supports and services that they would normally receive at school.14

Unaccompanied youth present differently than the general homeless population does; unaccompanied homeless youth are less likely to be White and more likely to be female than members of the general homeless population. Ninety percent of unaccompanied youth are between the ages of 18 and 24, 52 percent are nonwhite, and 57 percent are male. Unaccompanied youth were more likely than the overall population experiencing homelessness to identify as a race other than White or African- American (17% and 12%, respectively). Thirty-nine percent of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness were women or girls. Although rural and nonrural areas show similar rates of youth homelessness, youth experiences in each context differ. (See “Rural Youth Homelessness,” p. 9.)15

Causes of Youth Homelessness

The causes of youth homelessness include those common for many other households — a lack of affordable housing, eviction, income loss or instability, poverty, and unexpected or significant economic shocks. Systemic discrimination and disparate impacts in each of these areas based on race, sexual orientation, gender, or other status contribute to disparities in the incidence of homelessness. For example, African-American and Latino renters (especially women) and families with children are at greater risk of eviction than their peers, which, in turn, can lead to homelessness.16 According to a national survey, 23 percent of transgender individuals experience some type of housing discrimination, and 5 percent experienced eviction because of their gender identity or expression, contributing to housing insecurity. These systemic disparities result in a high risk of homelessness among this population; nearly one out of three transgender individuals surveyed had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.17

Additional common causes of homelessness among unaccompanied youth include intrafamily conflict, domestic violence, unsafe or unstable home environments, substance abuse, mental illness, family financial difficulties, rejection because of their LGBTQ+ identity, and rejection because of pregnancy.18 Research suggests that approximately one in five youth who have left their homes are LGBTQ+ youth whose families have rejected them because of their identity. Some LGBTQ+ youth leave home before coming out for fear that they will be rejected.19 Violence within or outside of the home is another contributor to homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth, who may need to flee dangerous situations. One study found that nearly one-third of LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness have also experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in their homes.20

Some researchers, however, caution against the oversimplified notion that these youth were ejected from their homes immediately after coming out. The family tensions that drive these youth from their homes may concern issues other than gender identity or sexual orientation and may have simmered over time rather than be a sudden reaction to coming out.21 Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals whose families reject them are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness than those whose families accepted them.22 Transgender individuals who had been mistreated in school or lost employment were also more likely to experience homelessness than those who had not.23 Domestic violence perpetrated against transgender individuals increases the likelihood of homelessness among survivors by a factor of four.24 Youth also may become homeless when fleeing shelters or congregate care settings that feel too restrictive, unsafe, or unsanitary, or when they are aging out of the foster care system or exiting the juvenile justice system without securing stable housing.25 Immigration status could also prevent youth from accessing public services needed to prevent homelessness.26

Indepth interviews by Chapin Hall with 215 youth experiencing homelessness found that many have experienced trauma, including one in three having experienced the loss of a parent or caregiver before the age of 25. Nearly half of the interviewees had spent time in juvenile detention, jail, or prison; nearly 30 percent had been in foster care; and 17 percent had spent time in both the justice and child welfare systems.27 The 100,000 youth exiting the juvenile justice and 25,000 youth aging out of the foster care system each year are at high risk of experiencing homelessness. Research suggests that more than a quarter of former foster children become homeless within 2 to 4 years of leaving the system, and half of youth leaving the foster care and juvenile justice systems experience homelessness within 6 months because of a lack of support. Most youth exiting the juvenile justice system have had no discharge planning for stable housing and no services to address the trauma associated with detention. Involvement with the juvenile justice system can also entail financial costs for families and endanger a family’s public housing.28

LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color are overrepresented in child welfare systems compared with their non-LGBTQ+ and White peers, respectively.29 An analysis of data from 21 state child welfare systems found that 13 percent of youth aged 13 to 17 exited their first stay in out-of-home care by running away, resulting in various spans of homelessness. African-American and Hispanic youth were more likely than White youth to exit by running away.30 In addition, negative experiences in congregate or foster care settings can contribute to exits that result in homelessness. For example, transgender youth may be forced to use facilities, clothing, or hygiene products counter to their gender identity despite federal antidiscrimination protections.31 LGBTQ+ youth are more likely than their peers to experience the instability of moving from one foster care placement to another, often at the request of the host family, and are more likely to run away from a placement.32

Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals who seek shelter continue to face barriers and challenges that exacerbate housing insecurity. Although not exclusive to youth, a national survey of transgender individuals who had experienced homelessness in the past year found that 6 percent were denied access to a shelter, 9 percent were thrown out of a shelter, 44 percent decided to leave in response to poor treatment or unsafe conditions, 25 percent presented as the wrong gender to feel safer, 14 percent said they were forced to dress as the wrong gender to stay, 49 percent reported verbal harassment, 19 percent reported physical abuse, and 17 percent reported being sexually assaulted. In all, 70 percent of respondents who were experiencing homelessness reported having a negative experience at a shelter, and 26 percent said that they did not seek shelter to avoid such experiences.33

Whatever the precise cause, several characteristics, including identification with subpopulations that are marginalized, are associated with an increased risk of homelessness. Parenting youth; youth who identify as African-American, Latino, and/or LGBTQ+; and youth who have not completed high school have a disproportionately higher risk of homelessness. Unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness are slightly more likely than those in the general homeless population to identify as African-American (35% and 34%, respectively).

 HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program awards funding to communities to support rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, and other housing supports.
HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program awards funding to communities to support rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, and other housing supports. Photo courtesy of Valley Youth House

One-quarter of unaccompanied homeless youth were Hispanic or Latino compared with 20 percent of all homeless individuals. Multiracial youth accounted for 11 percent of unaccompanied homeless youth compared with 6 percent of all homeless individuals. Transgender youth or youth who do not identify as male, female, or transgender accounted for 4 percent of the unaccompanied youth population compared with 1 percent of the general homeless population.34

LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately represented among youth experiencing homelessness (they make up approximately 5 to 10 percent of the general population but 20 to 40 percent of the population of youth experiencing homelessness) even as some researchers suggest that LGBTQ+ youth are undercounted among the population experiencing homelessness.35 A 2019 study found that LGBTQ+ youth were 2.2 times more likely to experience homelessness than their straight and cisgendered peers.36 A Chapin Hall study found that youth who are both LGBTQ+ and African-American or multiracial reported the highest rates of homelessness.37

In a national survey, 0.53 percent of transgender respondents reported that they were homeless — a rate three times that of the overall U.S. population. Transgender women of color were disproportionately represented among those who had experienced homelessness in the past year. Nearly one in three transgender individuals had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, but among those with intersecting marginalized identities, the rates were higher: 59 percent for American Indian transgender women, 51 percent for African-American transgender women, 35 percent for Latina transgender women, 51 percent for multiracial transgender women, and 49 percent for Middle Eastern transgender women.38


The experience of homelessness has far-reaching effects on youth. Some of the proximate causes of homelessness, such as substance use, sexual abuse, mental health disorders, and poverty, may also be consequences of (or worsened by) the experience of homelessness itself. Youth homelessness can also cause food insecurity, negatively affect one’s education, and increase the risk of becoming a victim of violence, among other outcomes.39

Research suggests that youth experiencing homelessness, even those in shelters, are likely to experience food insecurity and not meet daily recommended dietary levels of iron, magnesium, zinc, or vitamins. Limited research also suggests that food consumption associated with homelessness can lead to obesity.40

Studies indicate that unaccompanied youth are more likely than their peers to contract sexually transmitted diseases and are at high risk of pregnancy.41 Youth experiencing homelessness may engage in selling or trading drugs or sex, which also exposes them to the risk of violence and arrest.42 Thirty percent of LGBTQ+ youth come in contact with the juvenile justice system, a rate higher than that of their non-LGBTQ+ peers.43 Fighting in school — often related to bullying — and running away or skipping school are common reasons for LGBTQ+ youth to be referred to the justice system.44

Youth experiencing homelessness have a higher incidence of mental health disorders than their housed peers. These disorders include disruptive behavior, social phobia, and depression. Homelessness also contributes to educational challenges such as absenteeism, disruptive school mobility, and a lack of access to special education evaluations and services, which, in turn, result in lower math and reading scores and high school graduation rates than those of their housed peers. Compared with their housed peers, transgender individuals (including adults) who experienced homelessness were four times more likely to engage in sex work, two and a half times more likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to be HIV positive and to have attempted suicide.45 Youth experiencing homelessness are also at heightened risk of violence: a 2011 study reported that 22 percent of transgender individuals experiencing homelessness were assaulted in shelters.46

Intersectionality and Youth Homelessness

Originating in the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, the concept of intersectionality refers to the interconnection or intersection of two or more social categories that create overlapping systems of discrimination or disadvantage.47 The dynamic interplay of identities, characteristics, and oppression and exclusion produce distinctive experiences of marginalization that cannot be reduced to that of any single identity or a simple aggregation of identities. Crenshaw coined the term “intersectional equity,” which emphasizes the need to understand the complexity of intersectional inequity and address it accordingly with tailored responses.48 As Fraser et al. put it, “Intersectionality encourages us to consider how upstream social determinants (such as racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, and queerphobia) form interlocking systems of oppression which shape the experience of people with multidimensional identities.”49

The concept of intersectionality can be applied to all HUD program participants, including youth experiencing homelessness. Intersecting identities, categories, and oppressions lead to differing experiences of marginalization and disempowerment.50 In a study of adult populations, Verissimo et al. found that “individuals who experience discrimination based on multiple minority statuses are also more likely to report experiencing homelessness, consistent with an intersectional approach to understanding multiple forms of discrimination.”51 Although few statistical studies document the percentage of youth experiencing homelessness who are both LGBTQ+ and a member of a racial minority group, LGBTQ+ youth of color, like their adult counterparts, face racial discrimination, higher rates of prostitution, and a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and mental illness. In certain contexts, they may experience emotional isolation and depression related to conflicts among their intersecting identities.52

Another subpopulation of youth experiencing homelessness that faces unique risks and challenges is pregnant and parenting youth. Being unable to provide a safe place for one’s children to live can be stressful, even traumatic. The homeless services infrastructure may not be designed to meet the special needs of pregnant and parenting youth. Among other challenges, parents may struggle to maintain relationships with each another while one or both are receiving services.53 Homelessness itself can become an imputed identity and a basis for stigmatization and discrimination, possibly intersecting with other identities and compounding challenges.54

University of California, Riverside professor Brandon Robinson explained that minority stress — prejudice and discrimination against minority groups that induces stress — contributes to mental health challenges among LGBTQ+ youth with intersecting minority identities and can even lead to pathways into homelessness. These stresses can come from both inside and outside the home, particularly at youth-serving institutions such as schools. Youth may respond to these stresses by escaping to the streets, but these stresses are likely to continue as these youth navigate the streets, services, and shelters.55 Robinson argued that familiar explanations of causes of homelessness that focus on coming out and family rejection miss the reality of larger structural factors. A 2019 report from True Colors United and the National LGBTQ Task Force similarly advocated for greater nuance in understanding the challenges that contribute to and shape youth homelessness, including immigration, forced migration, and systemic racism, among others. Jama Shelton wrote that LGBTQ+ youth narratives that focus narrowly on family rejection or victimization can lead stakeholders to emphasize solutions (such as family reunification) that do not adequately meet the needs of young people.56

In a 2018 study of the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in seven cities, Shelton et al. found differences within groups based on intersecting identities. In this study, White and Latino LGBTQ+ youth were more likely than their African-American peers to become homeless because they were unable to pay rent.

 The Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program includes Youth Action Boards to ensure that youth have a voice in the programs and policies that affect them.
The Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program includes Youth Action Boards to ensure that youth have a voice in the programs and policies that affect them. Photo courtesy of Valley Youth House

Bisexual Latino youth experiencing homelessness were more likely to report having been homeless for more than 2 years, and bisexual African-American youth were more likely to report being homeless for less than 6 months compared to other bisexual youth. African-American LGBTQ+ youth reported higher incidences of couch surfing than did their White and Latino peers, and White LGBTQ+ youth reported higher incidences of staying outside or sleeping on public transportation than did their African-American and Latino peers. African-American and Latino youth reported a higher incidence of racial discrimination than did their White peers. White transgender youth were more likely than their African-American or Latino peers to report discrimination because of their sexual orientation.57

An Intersectional Approach to Policy and Practice

An analysis focused on racial identity or gender identity or sexuality alone would fail to identify these disparate experiences based on the intersections of identities. Incorporating an intersectional framework provides the insights necessary to design programs and interventions for youth experiencing homelessness that meet the full complexity and nuance of their needs.

Many existing programs may not have services appropriately targeted to, or personnel specifically trained for, the unique circumstances and challenges that youth face in their intersecting identities.58 Casey Trupin, director of youth homelessness strategy at the Raikes Foundation, pointed out that, for many youth who are nonwhite or not heterosexual, engaging with systems that were designed from a White, heteronormative perspective is often traumatizing and alienating.59

Intersectional equity calls for targeted and tailored approaches to serve those whose experience of homelessness is affected by interconnected sources of oppression. Adopting such approaches requires changes to programming, staff training, and, Page argued, existing laws such as the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.60 “If we truly want to offer comprehensive services, there needs to be honest recognition that discrimination and oppression are underlying causes of homelessness,” said Angie Verissimo, professor at California State University, San Bernardino. “This will put us on a path that will allow services to also address these underlying causes.”61 Robinson suggested creating culturally specific programming for different subpopulations, such as LGBTQ+ youth of color, that responds to their stated needs.62

Training might especially be needed for staff serving LGBTQ+ youth. Kroehle outlined some of the essential steps involved in creating inclusive programs that provide “safe and affirming care” for LGBTQ+ youth, including self-awareness and education for providers and respect for youth voices, names, pronouns, and confidentiality. Providers need to offer a range of support groups that bridge various differences and gather those with shared experiences and intersectional identities. Because of the high rates of trauma among youth experiencing homelessness, incorporating trauma-informed care can help service providers meet the unique needs of the youth they serve. Trauma, which often is repeated or chronic, can lead to serious mental health conditions, including posttraumatic stress disorder. Service providers will be better able to engage youth if they are trained to address trauma-related symptoms and challenges. Trauma-informed care may, for example, emphasize respect and create safe spaces to overcome distrust from youth.63 At the administrative level, forms, policies, personnel, spaces, and referrals to partners should reflect a commitment to inclusivity; for example, spaces such as bathrooms should not be unnecessarily gendered, and the organizations to which youth are referred should be inclusive in every aspect.64

HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) could be a resource for communities across the United States seeking to integrate an intersectional framework in their programmatic approach to preventing homelessness. YHDP awards funding to communities to support housing programs such as rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, transitional housing, and other models. Significantly, YHDP incorporates Youth Action Boards as advisory groups to ensure that youth have direct input in creating programs that are responsive to their needs.65 Some YHDP awardees have host homes for youth that are designated specifically for LGBTQ+ youth, and others have identified the lack of housing options for specific subpopulations, including LGBTQ+ youth, pregnant and parenting youth, youth aging out of foster care, and youth exiting the juvenile justice system, as service gaps that need to be filled.66

Efforts to incorporate youth voices, says Trupin, must not tokenize youth input, and youth should be paid for their time.67 Engagement that empowers youth and pays attention to intersections of identity and experiences can help.68 Samuels et al. observe that when staff support and nurture the identity development of LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color who are navigating forms of discrimination on multiple bases, the youth tend to engage more deeply.69

Other promising points of application for an intersectional approach to reducing the risk of homelessness among youth aging out of foster care include HUD’s Family Unification Program (FUP), FUP Youth and Family Self-Sufficiency Program Demonstration, and Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) initiative. Youth leaving foster care who are at risk of homelessness (as well as families engaged with the child welfare system) are eligible to receive vouchers through FUP. However, only 13 percent of public housing agencies (PHAs) participate in FUP, and only 5 percent of FUP participants are former foster youth. More than 50 PHAs were approved to participate in the FUP Youth and Family Self-Sufficiency Program Demonstration, which pairs FUP vouchers with HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency program. Beginning in 2019, the FYI program became available to PHAs that do not have FUP vouchers. Initially targeted to residents who were being displaced from other HUD-assisted housing, FYI provides youth aged 18 to 25 who have aged out of the foster care system with housing choice vouchers for up to 36 months coupled with supportive services to promote self-sufficiency. PHAs partner with public child welfare agencies to implement the program.70 The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act, enacted in December 2020, will make FUP vouchers available to PHAs by request rather than through competition, extend their terms past 36 months in certain circumstances, and require PHAs to make participants aware of available programs and services.71 An understanding of the population exiting the system as well as subpopulations with intersecting identities can help target youth in need of vouchers as well as additional supports.72

 When program staff support and nurture identity development and incorporate youth voices, youth tend to engage more deeply.
When program staff support and nurture identity development and incorporate youth voices, youth tend to engage more deeply. Photo courtesy of Valley Youth House

Programs that target vouchers to populations at high risk of homelessness help make efficient use of limited resources, but expanding available resources, along with increasing the supply of affordable housing generally, promises to reduce homelessness further. The key insight from an intersectional lens is that any action to expand available resources must also ensure that youth can access those resources without facing discrimination or other barriers.

Ultimately, Kroehle, Robinson, Verissimo, and others argued, the recognition of the role of discrimination in contributing to homelessness points to addressing systems of oppression. According to Verissimo et al., “Strategies to prevent and address homelessness can be strengthened by addressing discrimination that is embedded in multiple social systems, including housing, educational, employment, criminal justice, and health systems.”73 The Biden administration’s emphasis on achieving equity for those “who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality” takes these systems head on, calling through an executive order for the federal government to “recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.”74 An additional executive order expressly directs all federal agencies to enforce prohibitions of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, including housing discrimination.75

Together, these executive orders represent a commitment to the dismantling of the systems that contribute to and shape the experience of youth homelessness.

According to Robinson, attention to intersectionality in research on youth homelessness is growing, particularly through qualitative research. Quantitative methods might not reach the depth of multiple factors contributing to homelessness — for example, if surveys ask a respondent to check a single box on why they perceived they were experiencing homelessness.76 Researchers could adapt quantitative methods to permit more nuance and report intersecting identities. With a few exceptions, most research on LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness does not break down subgroups by race or other identities. A recent review of homelessness intervention evaluations noted specifically that “evaluative evidence is further lacking on how the effects of interventions vary by subpopulations disproportionately impacted by homelessness” and that no evaluations of interventions that implement an intersectional framework exist.77 As practitioners adopt explicitly intersectional approaches, opportunities to research and evaluate will expand as well.


Youth homelessness remains an urgent issue in the United States, with millions of youth experiencing some type of homelessness and instability each year. Using an intersectional framework to understand the complex and dynamic ways that multiple identities shape the experiences, obstacles, and systems of oppression encountered by different youth can help policymakers and practitioners tailor appropriate services to individual clients and identify and address large-scale structures that cause or worsen youth homelessness.

Related Information

Rural Youth Homelessness

  1. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. 2017. "Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America National Estimates," Voices of Youth Count; Kirsten Ray. 2021. "The Foster Youth to Independence Program in Oregon," Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research 23:1, 293.
  2. Christa Price, Dehkontee Chanchan, Coco Wheeler, Nick Seip, and Justin Rush, eds. 2019. At the Intersections: A Collaborative Resource on LGBTQ Youth Homelessness, (2nd Edition). True Colors United and the National LGBTQ Task Force, 14; Amy Dworski, Matthew Morton, and Gina Miranda Samuels. 2018. "Missed Opportunities: Pregnant and Parenting Youth Experiencing Homelessness in America," Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
  3. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2021. "The 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress," 2.
  4. Ibid., 3.
  5. Ibid., 2–3.
  6. Matthew H. Morton, Amy Dworsky, Jennifer L. Matjasko, Susanna R. Curry, David Schuleter, Raúl Chávez, and Anne F. Farrell. 2018. "Prevalence and Correlates of Youth Homelessness in the United States," Journal of Adolescent Health 62, 15.
  7. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2021, 42–4.
  8. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2022. "The 2021 Annual Homeless Assessment Report(AHAR) to Congress, Part 1: Point-in-Time Estimates of Sheltered Homelessness," 31.
  9. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2020. "The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress: Part 2: Estimates of Homelessness in the United States," 4-3, 4-4.
  10. Ibid., B-7, B-8.
  11. Matthew Morton, Amy Dworsky, Gina Miranda Samuels, and Sonali Patel. 2018a. "Voices Of Youth Count Comprehensive Report: Youth Homelessness In America," 10.
  12. Ibid., viii.
  13. Kristin M. Ferguson. 2009. "Exploring Family Environment Characteristics and Multiple Abuse Experiences Among Homeless Youth," Journal of Interpersonal Violence 24:11, 1880; Kimberley Bender, Stephanie Begun, Anne DePrince, Badlah Haffejee, and Sarah Kaufmann. 2014. "Utilization Technology for Longitudinal Communication with Homeless Youth," Social Work in Health Care 53:9, 868, 871.
  14. SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. 2020. "Lost in the Masked Shuffle & Virtual Void: Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Amidst the Pandemic," 4, 11.
  15. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2021, 42–3.
  16. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2021. "Affordable Housing, Eviction, and Health," Evidence Matters Summer.
  17. Sandy E. James, Jody L. Herman, Susan Rankin, Mara Keisling, Lisa Mottet, and Ma'ayan Anafi. 2016. The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality, 176.
  18. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2021, 131–2.
  19. Michelle Page. 2017. "Forgotten Youth: Homeless LGBT Youth of Color and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act," Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy 12:2, 18.
  20. Soon Kyu Choi, Bianca D.M. Wilson, Jama Shelton, and Gary J. Gates. 2015. "Serving Our Youth 2015: The Needs and Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth Experiencing Homelessness," Los Angeles: The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund.
  21. Matthew Morton, Gina Miranda Samuels, Amy Dworsky, and Sonali Patel. 2018b. "Missed Opportunities: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in America," Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, 11.
  22. Jamie M. Grant, Lisa A. Mottet, Justin Tanis, Jack Harrison, Jody L. Herman, and Mara Keisling. 2011. "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey," National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 7.
  23. Ibid., 44, 51.
  24. Ibid., 88.
  25. Morton et al. 2018a, 62.
  26. Kathleen Ja Sook Bergquist, Hannah Nelson, Patricia Cook-Craig, William Sousa, Arash Ghafoori, and Melissa Jacobowitz. 2018. "A review of Policies that Impact Homeless Youth in Southern Nevada," UNLV College of Urban Affairs Research Brief, 6.
  27. Morton et al. 2018a, ix, 48.
  28. Linda Britton and Lisa Pilnik. 2018. "Preventing Homelessness for System-Involved Youth," Juvenile and Family Court Journal 69:1.
  29. Price et al.
  30. Morton et al. 2018a, 109.
  31. Price et al., 14–5.
  32. Megan Martin, Leann Down, and Rosalynd Erney. 2016. Out of the Shadows: Supporting LGBTQ Youth in Child Welfare Through Cross-System Collaboration. Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Social Policy. 8, 10.
  33. James et al., 179--82.
  34. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2021, 42–3; Melissa A. Kull, Matthew H. Morton, Sonali Patel, Susanna Curry, and Erin Carreon. 2019. "Missed Opportunities: Education Among Youth and Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness in America," Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, 3.
  35. Page 2017, 19.
  36. Price et al., 4.
  37. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago 2017, 3.
  38. James et al., 178.
  39. Brodie Fraser, Nevil Pierse, Elinor Chisholm, and Hera Cook. 2019. "LGBTIQ+ Homelessness: A Review of the Literature," International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16:15.
  40. Yumiko Aratani. 2009. "Homeless Children and Youth: Causes and Consequences," National Center for Children in Poverty, 6.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Price et al., 18–20.
  43. Price et al., 18.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Grant et al., 106; Aratani, 7.
  46. James et al., 4.
  47. Kimberlé Crenshaw. 1989. "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics," University of Chicago Legal Forum.
  48. Neisha McGee. 2021. "EmpowHERment Through Intersectional Equity," Independent Sector 19 March.
  49. Fraser et al.
  50. McGee.
  51. Angie Denisse Otiniano Verissimo, Nicole Henley, Gilbert C. Gee, Claudia Davis, Christine Grella. 2021. "Homelessness and discrimination among US adults: the role of intersectionality," Journal of Social Distress and Homelessness.
  52. Page 2017, 19, 23.
  53. Dworski et al., 2–3.
  54. Denisse Otiniano Verissimo et al., 11.
  55. Brandon Andrew Robinson. 2021. "'They peed on my shoes': foregrounding intersectional minority stress in understanding LGBTQ youth homelessness," Journal of LGBT Youth; Interview with Brandon Andrew Robinson, 16 December 2021.
  56. Price et al., 68–9.
  57. Jama Shelton, Jonah DeChants, Kim Bender, Hsun-Ta Hsu, Diane Santa Maria, Robin Petering, Kristin Ferguson, Sarah Narendorf, and Anamika Barman-Adhikari. 2018. "Homelessness and Housing Experiences among LGBTQ Young Adults in Seven U.S. Cities," Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research 20:3.
  58. Alex Abramovich and Jama Shelton, Eds. 2017. Where Am I Going to Go? Intersectional Approaches to Ending LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness in Canada & the U.S. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.
  59. Interview with Casey Trupin, 1 December 2021.
  60. Page 2017, 19.
  61. Email correspondence with Angie Verissimo, 9 January 2022.
  62. Interview with Brandon Andrew Robinson, 16 December 2021.
  63. Elizabeth K. Hopper, Jeffrey Olivet, and Ellen L. Bassuk. "Trauma-Informed Care for Street-Involved Youth," in Sean Kidd, Natasha Slesnick, Tyler Frederick, Jeff Karabanow, and Stephen Gaetz eds. 2018. Mental Health and Addiction Interventions for Youth Experiencing Homelessness: Practical Strategies for Front-line Providers. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press, 45–50.
  64. Price et al., 78–80.
  65. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Develop- ment. 2019. "FY 2018 (Round 3) Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Community Selection Announcement."
  66. Debra J. Rog, Kathryn A. Henderson, and Eleanor M. Kerr. 2020. "Evaluation of the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program: Initial Continuums of Care Survey," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 19, 28.
  67. Interview with Casey Trupin.
  68. Price et al., 109.
  69. Gina M. Samuels, Christine Cerven, Susanna R. Curry, and Shanatá R. Robinson. 2018. "Nothing is for free...": Youth Logics of Engaging Resources While Unstably Housed," Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research 20:3.
  70. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Family Unification Program" ( Accessed 17 January 2022; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "FYI Vouchers for the Foster Youth to Independence Initiative" ( Accessed 15 February 2022.
  71. Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara and Maggie McCarty. 2021. "Housing for Former Foster Youth: Federal Support," Congressional Research Service, 19–26.
  72. Kirsten Ray. 2021. "The Foster Youth to Independence Program in Oregon," Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research 23:1.
  73. Denisse Otiniano Verissimo et al., 10.
  74. The White House. 2021. "Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government," 20 January.
  75. The White House. 2021. "Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation," 20 January.
  76. Interview with Brandon Andrew Robinson.
  77. Matthew H. Morton, Shannon Kugley, Richard Epstein, and Anne Farrell. 2020. "Interventions for youth homelessness: A systemic review of effectiveness studies," Children and Youth Services Review 116.


Evidence Matters Home              Next Article

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.