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The Number One Risk Factor for Youth Homelessness

This story is part of the “90 for All” series, which examines the challenges facing traditionally underserved students, particularly low-income and homeless students, English learners, students of color, and students with disabilities.

It might be no surprise that students experiencing homelessness are more at risk of dropping out than others—as this young person illustrates—but new research shows that the inverse is also true: When it comes to youth homelessness, not having a high school diploma is the biggest risk factor of all.

The research brief Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America highlights the results from a Voices of Youth Count national survey on unaccompanied youth homelessness in America, which found that at least one in 30 teens ages 13-17 experience some form of homelessness over the course of a year. For young adults ages 18-25, it’s one in 10.

While not having a high school diploma is the biggest risk factor—making young people 346 percent more likely to experience homelessness than those who graduated—students of color, LGBT youth, and unmarried young parents are also at greater risk.

Here’s a breakdown of young people most at risk of experiencing homelessness:

Young people most at risk of experiencing homelessness

There are already a number of federal programs designed to support homeless youth, like the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, and the HEARTH Act, and the research brief recommends they start to tailor their outreach, staff recruitment or development, and service models to better meet the needs of students experiencing homelessness.

Missed Opportunities is the first in a series of “Research-to-Impact” briefs by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, and Voices of Youth Count plans on exploring how to help the most at-risk students in future research briefs.

In the meantime, they have a host of recommendations for ways Congress can help prevent and battle youth homelessness overall, including conducting national estimates of youth homelessness biennially, expanding stronger homelessness prevention and early intervention efforts to other public systems like child welfare, schools, and justice systems that already work with youth, and tailoring supports for rural youth, who experience homelessness at similar rates of urban youth but with more limited services.

“The research makes clear that we must prioritize prevention and early intervention to reduce homelessness, and that means focusing on educational outcomes,” said Barbara Duffield, executive director of Schoolhouse Connection, an organization that works to overcome homelessness through education.

“Helping youth obtain a high school degree is one of the best ways we can make sure that they avoid homelessness, and the many harms that accompany it,” she continued.

For more in-depth information on youth homelessness and recommendations for how to prevent and end it, read the full Research-to-Impact brief, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America.

 Learn more about the GradNation State Activation initiative

The GradNation State Activation initiative is a collaboration between America’s Promise Alliance and Pearson to increase high school graduation rates by encouraging statewide innovation and collaboration, sharing that knowledge and replicating what works, and developing successful models all states can replicate.

Check out the latest research report from the initiative, I Came Here to Learn: The Achievements and Experiences of Massachusetts Students Whose First Language is Not English.

Join the GradNation Learning Community

To get more news about graduation rates and effective practices to increase them, join the GradNation Learning Community, a hub for sharing strategies and successful practices. Just send an email to [email protected] with your name, email address and organizational affiliation. To join the conversation on Twitter, use #GradNation