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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Understanding the Health Care Needs of Homeless Youth
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It is estimated that 1.6 million youth are homeless each year in the United States. Some may stay away from home for only one or two nights while others have been living on the street for years. Approximately 200,000 youth each year live permanently on the street – a life that is extremely difficult, often dangerous, and associated with multiple health problems. Sadly, 5,000 teenagers are buried each year in unmarked graves either because they are unidentified or unclaimed. Homeless youth have been identified by several different designations in the literature depending on the circumstances causing their homelessness. Runaway youth have been defined by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services as “a person under 18 years old who absents himself or herself from home or place of legal residence…at least overnight…without the permission of parents or legal guardians.” “Throwaways” are youth who have been thrown out of the house by parents or guardians. The reasons cited by adolescents for being thrown out of their homes include drug use, pregnancy, and gender identification conflicts. The term “street youth” is used to indicate youth who have been living on the street for some time and do not tend to use shelters or other traditional services. Unless otherwise specified, this paper will discuss homeless youth (ages 12-21), including runaways, throwaways and street youth, who do not live with parents or guardians. Youth who are homeless and living with their parents face some of the same issues as youth without parents or guardians, but are not the focus of this discussion. (Authors)
Bethesda, MD