Rural Youth Experiencing Homelessness Less Likely to Have Jobs or Attend School; Fewer Services for ‘Hidden’ Youth

New study shows rural youth experiencing homelessness at similar rates of urban youth

CHICAGO, IL — October 24, 2018 A national study by Chapin Hall reveals that rural youth share the same risk for homelessness as their urban peers, challenging the narrow image of homelessness as an urban problem. Further, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in Rural America finds that rural youth experiencing homelessness are less likely than urban youth to have jobs and attend school, and are less likely to have access to services.

The Voices of Youth Count study’s first National Estimates report showed that about 1 in 10 young adults, and 1 in 30 teens, experience some form of homelessness within a 12-month period. New analysis shows that these rates are consistent in rural parts of the country. Specifically, 9.2% of young adults (ages 18 to 25) in predominantly rural counties report experiencing homelessness within the last year, while 9.6% of their urban peers do. Similarly, among younger teens (ages 13 to 17), 4.4% of rural households with adolescents reported any homelessness experiences among adolescents in the household during a 12-month period, compared to 4.2% of their urban peers.

These findings mean that–as a share of population size–youth homelessness is just as much of a challenge for rural communities as it is for urban ones.

“We now know that American communities of every size have youth who are experiencing homelessness,” said Bryan Samuels, executive director of Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. “These new findings make it clear that we need to develop creative housing options and service delivery models that meet the needs of the youth who live in more isolated or rural areas of the country.”

Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in Rural America is among the first national assessments of the similar risks that rural and urban youth face. The report also found:

  • Most rural counties lack services designed specifically for youth experiencing homelessness, forcing young people to go without help or travel long distances to gain support;
  • Rural youth are more likely to be “hidden” in their communities because they often rely on “couch surfing” at friends’ or strangers’ homes, sleeping in vehicles, or staying outdoors;
  • Rural youth find it more difficult to connect with education and employment opportunities than their peers in larger, more urban counties;
  • American Indian and Alaska Native youth show more than double the risk for homelessness as other youth, although most were located outside of rural communities.
  • In rural communities, changes like the collapse of an industry or the emergence of a substance use epidemic can have profoundly destabilizing effects on disadvantaged families, which, in turn, can shape young people’s trajectories into homelessness;

“These findings signal an opportunity for policymakers and stakeholders to reexamine federal programs and funding,” said Dr. Matthew Morton, Research Fellow at Chapin Hall, who oversaw the study and called for young people in every part of the country to have access, within a reasonable distance, to youth-specific homelessness services and supports. “By ensuring that all of our nation’s youth can count on stable housing, we can help them achieve their full potential and strengthen our communities in the process.”

This is the fifth in a series of research briefs on youth experiencing homelessness in America. The previous briefs covered other critical findings from the Voices of Youth national study:

Background information about Voices of Youth Count

Voices of Youth Count is made possible through a grant from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (Office of Policy Development and Research) and support from other funders including Chapin Hall, Arcus Foundation, Ballmer Group Philanthropy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Campion Foundation, Casey Family Programs, Dr. Inger Davis, Elton John AIDS Foundation, Liberty Mutual, Melville Charitable Trust, and Raikes Foundation. Chapin Hall is solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations in Voices of Youth Count publications. Such statements and interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the government or any of Chapin Hall’s other partners.

Background information about Chapin Hall

Chapin Hall is an independent policy research center at the University of Chicago focused on providing public and private decision-makers with rigorous data analysis and achievable solutions to support them in improving the lives of children, families and communities. Chapin Hall partners with policymakers, practitioners, and philanthropists at the forefront of research and policy development by applying a unique blend of scientific research, real-world experience, and policy expertise to create solutions for improving the lives of children, youth, and families.

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