Incidence and Prevalence of Homeless and Runaway Youth

Jody M. Greene, Rebecca Sanchez, Jennie Harris, Connie Cignetti, Don Akin, and Sara Wheeless

May 2003

Homeless, runaway, and throwaway youth (HRTY) constitute a high-risk population that urgently requires the attention of policy makers.  Although little is known about this population, studies suggest that compared with their domiciled peers, HRTY are at significantly greater risk for medical problems and health-compromising behaviors that include HIV and other sexually transmitted and infectious diseases; substance abuse; psychotic behavior, depression, and suicide attempts; prostitution; and trauma.  Furthermore, service providers report that the population appears to be increasing in size, with a trend toward clients who are more troubled and have multiple problems.  To plan programs and interventions for these young people, public health professionals and social workers need accurate information on the size and characteristics of the HRTY population. However, there is little empirical evidence about the prevalence or incidence of homelessness or of becoming a runaway or a throwaway, largely because of the challenges inherent in studying this population: contradictory definitions of what constitutes homeless, runaway, and throwaway experiences; an absence of standardized methodology for sampling HRTY; and an over-reliance on data from shelters and agencies. In an effort to address these and other issues, ACF/ASPE contracted with RTI to develop options for estimating the incidence and prevalence of runaway, throwaway, homeless, and street experiences among youth. This report presents the results of the work.

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