On March 13, the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness (ICPH) released More Than a Place to Sleep: Understanding the Health and Well-Being of Homeless High School Students. The report uses data from the Centers for Disease Control’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to explore differences in risk behaviors and health outcomes between high school students experiencing homelessness and those who are housed.

The ICPH study demonstrates that teens who experience homelessness have unequivocally worse health outcomes than housed teens – outcomes that threaten their lives and jeopardize their ability to finish school and transition to a stable adulthood. For example:

  • Over 40% of homeless teens struggle with depression, a rate 12 percentage points higher than their housed peers (29%).
  • Homeless teens consider suicide more often, and are three times more likely to attempt suicide than housed teens (20% versus 6%).
  • Nearly one in four homeless teens has been forced into unwanted sexual activity by someone they are dating, three times higher than the rate for housed teens (23% versus 8%).
  • Homeless teens are three times more likely than their housed peers to have been deliberately hurt by someone they are dating (25% versus 8%).
  • Homeless high school students are more than twice as likely than their housed peers to go to school hungry. In the past seven days, 33% of homeless students did not have breakfast compared to just 14% of housed students.

YRBS data are unique and critical for many reasons. Significantly, the data are not limited to students who are staying in homeless shelters; they include teens who are staying with others temporarily and in other situations that meet the education definition of homelessness. The YRBS data help dispel the mistaken notion that these youth are less vulnerable than youth who meet HUD’s limited definition of homelessness.

While the ICPH study is based on data from New York City’s YRBS, the findings are consistent with results from other YRBS surveys that have included questions about homelessness. Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, among other states and districts have included homelessness questions in their YRBS questionnaires.

In 2016, SchoolHouse Connection’s Patricia Julianelle worked directly with Centers for Disease Control and a national consortium of researchers and advocates to help get two homelessness questions added to the optional questionnaire for the 2017 YRBS nationally. As a result, more states and localities will use the homelessness questions this year than ever before, generating the largest pool of data ever collected on high school students experiencing homelessness. To watch a video on the YRBS and homelessness data, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJQNfUVmg4E.

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