Through its Night Light program, OPCC provides services to young people, aged 14-24, who are living on the streets. 1.5-1.7 million young people each year experience homelessness. These individuals include runaway youth, throwaway youth, and systems youth, who have aged out of the foster care or juvenile justice systems. It is estimated that 5,000 unaccompanied youth die each year as a result of assault, illness or suicide.
Causes of youth homelessness include the typical causes of homelessness: lack of affordable housing, poverty, unemployment, mental health and substance use issues. In addition, youth homelessness is a function of family conflict, abuse, breakdown and dysfunction.
Each year 20,000 to 25,000 youth “age out” of the foster care system, becoming legally emancipated. A large number of these young people are not prepared and/or do not have the financial means to live independently, and this group of young people is at greatest risk for becoming homeless. A variety of federal and state programs to address the needs of this group have been implemented in recent years, but there is clearly much more that needs to be done. 25% of former foster youth report at least one night of homelessness in the years following their emancipation from foster care.
40-60% of homeless youth are physically abused while they are homeless, and 17-35% experience sexual abuse. Many homeless young people lack the finances, skills, maturity and independent living skills that can help them end their homelessness. Unlike homeless adults, almost all homeless young people have never lived on their own. Homeless youth are also at high risk for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and suicide.
Further information about youth homelessness and programs to prevent and end youth homelessness can be found in a 2007 U.S. Health and Human Services Department report to Congress.