A new report by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago finds that youth homelessness has its origins in early family experiences, including family homelessness. The analysis, based on in-depth interviews with 215 young people, found that:

  • 100% experienced family-based instability, conflict, and trauma.
  • Nearly 24% experienced homelessness with their family prior to experiencing homelessness on their own; youth attributed their own unaccompanied homelessness to these family experiences.
  • 35% experienced the loss of at least one parent or primary caregiver.
  • 44% percent identified removal from family and placement in foster care as the beginnings of the instability that led to their homelessness.
  • 91% reported two to three different kinds of sleeping arrangements during their homelessness, indicating that there are not static categories of youth homelessness.

The findings make painfully clear that housing alone is insufficient to prevent and “end” youth homelessness, and that addressing youth homelessness alone, without explicit connections and fervent attention to family homelessness, will result in continued homelessness for all populations.

While the report focuses its recommendations on the reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), RHYA programs alone cannot address the numerous failings of multiple systems that contribute to youth homelessness — especially the child welfare system, anti-poverty programs, and the HUD homelessness system itself. This is particularly true in light of the low funding level of RHYA programs compared to the scale of youth homelessness ($127 million in FY2019).

The most holistic and important opportunity for Congress to confront youth homelessness currently is the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA), H.R. 2001. HCYA would make much-needed reforms to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) homeless assistance program that address the findings of the Chapin Hall report.  HUD Homelessness Assistance ($2.6 billion in FY2019) has not been reauthorized in a decade. It must be updated to meet the needs of children, youth, and families in order to prevent their homelessness, and future adult homelessness.

Why is HCYA needed?

  1. The definition of homelessness used by the HUD does not match the lived experience of youth and families who experience homelessness, including the 91% of youth interviewed for the Chapin Hall report who cycle among sleeping situations. Research has found that youth who are staying temporarily with others– the most common living situation for homeless youth– are equally as vulnerable as youth in shelters, and are at a high risk of trafficking and violence. Yet they are not eligible to be assessed for HUD homeless services – nor are they included in HUD’s homeless counts.
  2. HUD has imposed strong federal incentives and requirements for certain housing models, like Rapid Rehousing, and for certain populations, like chronically homeless adults, that do not match the needs of most youth and families who experience homelessness. Even when communities identify greater needs for youth or more appropriate program models, they must adopt HUD’s national priorities in order to be competitive for funding.

What does HCYA do?

  1. Aligns HUD’s definition of homelessness with definitions used by other federal programs, including RHYA and public schools.
  2. Requires HUD to score applications based primarily on whether they are cost-effective in meeting the priorities and goals that communities identify in their local plans, while preserving HUD’s ability to incentivize effective practices.
  3. Requires that communities include children, youth, and families identified and reported by other federal programs in local counts, if such counts are done.

How can you help?

Please urge your U.S. Representative to sign-on as a co-sponsor of H.R. 2001.

  1. Call your U.S. Representative’s office and ask for the person who handles housing. Tell them why you support HCYA, and urge the Representative to sign on. Ask for the staff’s email address to send a follow-up email. Contact information may be found here.
  2. Write a letter to your U.S. Representative. Fax it or deliver it to your Representative’s local office. Contact information may be found here. You can download this sample letter in Microsoft Word and personalize it with local or state information.
  3. Be sure to sign your organization on as a supporter of HCYA here, and spread the word to community partners, colleagues, and others.

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