Substance Abuse Among Homeless Youth

Engaging and Fostering Relationships Connects Homeless Youth to Services

The National Health Care for the Homeless Council has released a new report linking substance abuse and homeless youth.

The report find that youth experiencing homelessness have experienced one or more trauma in their lifetime and provides a summary of the link between mental health, trauma, substance abuse and homelessness.

The report:

  • Notes that many youth experiencing homelessness use drugs to lessen the effect of living on the streets and that alcohol and drugs have negatively impacted the physical and mental health of youth adults,
  • Highlights the barriers that hinder youth from seeking out services, such as policies, documentation, fear, stigma and criminalization, and
  • Concludes by providing suggestions on how to engage and foster relationships with youth to ensure that they get connected to the services they need.

Youth experiencing homelessness make up one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. It is estimated that between 1 and 1.7 million youth experience homelessness every year.

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finds that on the night of the point in time count of the homeless, an estimated 194,302 children (under age 18) and youth (18-24) were homeless, 23 % of these youths were unaccompanied.

  • HUD estimated that individuals up to age 24 made up one-third homeless people.
  • Estimates on the proportion of youth experiencing homelessness who use alcohol and/or drugs vary widely, ranging from 28% to 81%.

A common thread of these approaches has to do with the importance of valuing youth as experts in their own lives and engaging in mutual, respectful relationships with them.

Katie Kirkman with the Street RISE Team Lead Clinician notes “Youth are resilient and smart and know what’s best for them, and they have a lot of ideas about what will help them in their journey to gain periods of sobriety.”

“When young people are supported on this journey, they are able to find what Joey, a former client with the Homeless Youth Alliance, describes as “direction and moral responsibility, to my community, to myself, and the world at large. I went on in that direction discovering a healthy life I never knew existed.” “Now,” says Joey, “[that I am] out of the darkness… I have a very nice apartment, a business of my own and so much time clean and sober that I stopped keeping track.”

The report includes tips on how to best build relationships with homeless youth.

The National Health Care for the Homeless Council is a network of more than 10,000 doctors, nurses, social workers, patients, and advocates who share the mission to eliminate homelessness.

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