Homeless Youth Awareness

Colorado’s PK-12 student population during the 2019-2020 academic year was 913,223.
Of those students, 21,420 of them were identified as being homeless.

In a March 2019 report, the Congressional Research Service identified family conflict as primary factor in youth homelessness:

Youth most often cite family conflict as the major reason for their homelessness or episodes of running away. A youth’s sexual orientation, sexual activity, school problems, and substance abuse are associated with family discord.

Without adequate and safe shelter, runaway and homeless youth are vulnerable to engaging in high-risk behaviors and further victimization. Youth who live away from home for extended periods may become removed from school and systems of support. Runaway and homeless youth are vulnerable to multiple problems while they are away from a permanent home, including untreated mental health disorders, drug use, and sexual exploitation. They also report other challenges including poor health and the lack of basic provisions.

Every year the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sponsors “point-in-time” counts of people experiencing homelessness. The one-night counts are conducted nationwide and occur during the last week in January. In 2017 the Colorado Advisory Council for Homeless Youth began a program to learn more about youth who are experiencing homelessness in Colorado by conducting a supplemental survey to the point-in-time counts. The data collected is then used to guide improvements in the supports and solutions for youth without housing. Each year the Colorado Office of Homeless Youth Services publishes a report called “Youth Homelessness in Colorado” with information on the trends of youth homelessness in Colorado based on data from the Youth Supplemental Survey.

Here are a few highlights from the 2020 report:

  • Lack of affordable housing options and income continue to be the two top barriers youth experiencing homelessness face when attempting to secure housing.
  • Youth of color, namely American Indian, Black, and Multiple Races, continue to be overrepresented in the homeless youth population.
  • Youth who reported systems involvement (such as Child Welfare or Juvenile Justice) are overrepresented in the homeless youth population when compared with the general population of Colorado youth. The questions do not address whether the experiences with the systems are a result of homelessness (e.g., being arrested for an offense likely related to the homeless experience like trespassing) or if the systems involvement contributed to the experience of homelessness (i.e., it is difficult to secure an apartment with a criminal background).However, both situations may exist.
  • Of the youth who disclosed sexual orientation, nearly 30 percent identified as LGBTQ+. This reflects the nationwide estimates of up to 40 percent of unaccompanied homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ+ and a significant over representation compared to the general population.

What can we do to help? The Office of Homeless Youth Services has some good resources on it’s website with webinar recordings and links to organizations focusing on youth.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) is also a good place to visit for information. (The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is the primary piece of federal legislation related to the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness.) Education is one of the first things that falls through the cracks for those without housing or safe shelter.  Take a look at their “10 Things You Can Do to Help Children in Homeless Situations Go Back to School” guide and other resources on their page for Homeless Education Liaisons. There is good information there on community resources that anyone can use.

For a deeper look into the numbers for Colorado, visit the Interactive Homeless Education Data Maps from CDE.

Samantha Hager
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