Hemmed in by low wages, pricey rental markets and family instability, more young people are crashing on couches of friends or acquaintances, sleeping in cars or turning to the streets, a new study has found.
Researchers with Chapin Hall, a youth policy center at the University of Chicago, surveyed in 2016 and 2017 more than 26,000 young people and their families across the country to gauge how many of them had been homeless during some period of the previous year. Their results were alarming: One in 10 people ages 18 to 25 had experienced homelessness. For adolescents, the number was one in 30. They concluded that nearly 3.5 million young adults and 660,000 adolescents had been homeless within the previous year.
Matthew Morton, a Chapin Hall research fellow, said he aims to dispel the notion that homelessness afflicts mostly older men. His survey identified college students and graduates and employed young people who struggled to find a permanent place to stay. Researchers also found it was no less prevalent in rural areas than in urban ones.
“Our findings probably challenge the images of homelessness. Homelessness is young,” Morton said. “It’s more common than people expect and it’s largely hidden.”
That was true in Washington, where officials counted more homeless children and parents than homeless single men last year. The number of homeless families soared by more than 30 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to a federal estimate released last spring. City officials and advocates for the poor attributed the growth in homeless families to rising home costs and a city policy of guaranteeing any homeless family shelter.
The researchers relied on a broad definition of homelessness and counted as homeless young people who had run away from home – even for a night – as well as those who were forced to sleep on couches or stay with friends temporarily. Children who run away are more likely to face homelessness as adults, Morton said, and many of the young people who researchers spoke to were forced out of family homes after they came out as gay.
The study marked the first time researchers had used a nationally representative survey to capture the picture of youth homelessness. Previously, researchers relied on “point in time” counts, which tallied only people who were homeless on a particular day. Morton said those counts probably underestimated the prevalence of youth homelessness, because young people are more likely to move in and out of it than older people.
The findings “are staggering. They are alarming, but they’re not necessarily surprising,” Morton said. “Many young people are getting hammered in this economy . . . and far too many youth have experienced trauma and lack stable family situations. You have a major affordable housing crisis.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Moriah Balingit