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Runaway Homeless Youth Statistics

Taken from Third Party Statistics

NRS collects relevant statistics from research published by others on runaway, homeless youth and at-risk youth . By housing them on their website, NRS is able to share information with partner organizations, the general public and media about the causes, short-term effects, and long-term effects of runaway behavior in the United States.


Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away in a year. (Hammer et al, 2002, Greene, 1995)

Individual or family risk factors during adolescence predicted homelessness as young adults.

  • Youth who ran away from home multiple times, those with nontraditional family structures, parental health issues preventing work, or low educational achievement were at increased risk of homelessness(Brackenhoff et al, 2015)
  • Two factors reduced the risk of homelessness among youth: being Hispanic and having parents who are supportive but permissive in their parenting style. (Brackenhoff et al, 2015)

Running away from home once decreases the likelihood that a youth will graduate from high school by 10%.  (Aratani & Cooper, 2015)

Running away from home multiple times decreases the likelihood of completing high school by 18%. (Aratani & Cooper, 2015)

47% of runaway / homeless youth indicated that conflict between them and their parent or guardian was a major problem. (Westat, Inc. 1997)

Over 50% of youth in shelters and on the streets reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care. (Greene, 1995)


Within the dysfunctional family environments cited by runaway and homeless youth, abuse is often a factor. Verbal abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse before the age of 18 are all correlated with higher run away rates.  NRS Longitudinal Study full report,  NRS Longitudinal Study executive summary

Homeless youth are at high risk for involvement in the criminal justice system. Homeless youth who have been physically abused are almost twice as likely to be incarcerated compared to homeless youth without a history of physical abuse. (Yoder et al, 2013)

80% of runaway and homeless girls reported having ever been sexually or physically abused. (Molnar et al, 1998)

34% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported sexual abuse before leaving home.  (Molnar et al, 1998)

43% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported physical abuse before leaving home. (Molnar et al, 1998)

Childhood abuse increases youths’ risk for later victimization on the street. Physical abuse is associated with elevated risk of assaults for runaway and homeless youth, while sexual abuse is associated with higher risk of rape for runaway and homeless youth.  (Molnar et al, 1998)

Over 70% of runaway and throwaway youth in 2002 were estimated to be endangered, based on 17 indicators of harm or potential risk. The most common endangerment component was physical or sexual abuse at home or fear of abuse upon return. The second most common endangerment component was the youth’s substance dependency. (Hammer et al, 2002)


Children who are victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) and youth over 18 who engage in sexual acts as a result of coercion, fraud, or force are also considered to be victims of human trafficking under federal statute. This applies to children and youth engaged in pornography, sexual entertainment industries, “survival sex” (trading sex to meet youth’s basic needs for food and shelter), and prostitution. Children are considered to be victims of trafficking even when they seem to be engaging willingly in sexual acts. CSEC is the most common form of human trafficking of U.S. citizens and runaway and homeless youth are often its victims.  National Alliance to End Homelessness issue brief

There are a number of factors that can increase the likelihood of CSE among youth including maternal substance abuse and social alienation. (Reid & Piquero, 2014)

  • African American male youth are at heightened risk for CSE among males, whereas female youth of all races or ethnicities have similar levels of CSE risk. (Reid & Piquero, 2014)

Youth victims of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) have particularly severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, truancy, and conduct disorder when compared to youth victims of sexually abused/assaulted youth who were not exploited in commercial sex. (Cole et al, 2014)

  • CSE is also associated with lower educational attainment in late adolescence and early adulthood as well as increased risk of substance use. (Reid & Piquero, 2014)

Nine percent of runaway youth in a non-random sample of over 1,600 youth reported engaging in survival sex at some point in their lives. (Walls & Bell, 2011)

Approximately 10% of shelter youths and 28% of street youths report having participated in survival sex. Survival sex includes the exchange of sex for shelter, food, drugs, or other subsistence needs. This compares to 4% of the overall adolescent population.  NN4Y Human Trafficking Fact Sheet

Runaway and homeless children are vulnerable to CSEC both because of their young age and their circumstances. High numbers of youth who are homeless report having been solicited for prostitution and pimps have been known to actively target locations where homeless children and youth congregate, including on the streets, at foster care group homes, and at runaway and homeless shelter programs. Homeless youth are often its victims.  National Alliance to End Homelessness issue brief

In a 2013 study, The Institute of Medicine found that homelessness is the largest risk factor for CSEC and sex trafficking of minors.  Institute of Medicine Report 

Additionally, 48% of runaway and homeless youth who engaged in a commercial sex activity said they did it because they didn’t have a safe place to stay.  NN4Y Human Trafficking Fact Sheet

Expanding access to emergency housing options can reduce the risk that runaway and homeless youth will be victims of CSEC but further progress requires minimizing the length of time young people remain homeless. This can be achieved by helping homeless children and youth quickly reunify with family and quickly connecting those who cannot be reunified to long-term transitional housing and support services.  National Alliance to End Homelessness issue brief


The recreational use of prescription drugs is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States, killing more people per year than cocaine and heroin together. (CDC, 2011) 

Over one-fifth (22%) of runaway and homeless youth misused prescription drugs within the past 30 days. (Al-Tayyib et al, 2014)

Prescription drug misuse among runaway and homeless youth is strongly associated with the use of injection drugs. Injection drug use puts youth at significant risk of acquiring and transmitting infections such as HIV and hepatitis C.  (Al-Tayyib et al, 2014)


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a vulnerability which leads to increased levels of homelessness among youth. Data from a convenience sample show high rates of ADHD among homeless youth of 60-90% depending on the diagnostic instrument. (Harding, 2015)


  • Building on other studies that show high rates of victimization among runaway and homeless youth, this research found distinct levels of victimization prevalence among youth: low, medium, and high.
    • The authors find that youth with high levels of substance abuse – both alcohol and other drugs – are at greater risk of high levels of victimization. In addition, youth living on the streets rather than in a shelter or with friends are at the highest risk for victimization. (Bender et al, 2014)


Approximately 12 to 36 percent of youth ages 18 or 21 exiting the foster care system become homeless, which in 2010 translated to approximately 28,000 youth. (Dworsky et al, 2012)

Over 30% of respondents who had been in foster care as an adolescent had also run away from home compared to 8.1% of individuals who had not been in foster care.  NRS Longitudinal study full report,  NRS Longitudinal study executive summary

Young people who have been in foster care are 3 to 10 times more likely than their peers to experience homelessness. (American Journal of Public Health, 2013)

Youth feel that caseworkers do not provide the support they need. They feel that caseworkers should visit more often and find out how the youth is doing. Caseworkers should take the time to talk to the kids to understand them and try to make things better. Youth feel they are not asked their opinion and that caseworkers rely on the foster parent or a visual inspection to determine if everything is fine. Basically, youth wanted caseworkers to listen to the youth, try to understand, be reasonable, and be flexible.  Most youth do not hate the system or blame it for having to remove them from their home; they just want it to work better.  NRS Why They Run Report , NRS Why They Run Fact Sheet

LGBTQ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning)

LGBTQ youth ran more often than heterosexual youth. NRS Why They Run ReportNRS Why They Run Fact Sheet

For LGBTQ youth, some parents can’t accept their child’s sexual orientation and throw them out of the house. Other youth remain in the home but face difficulties due to lack of acceptance within their families, which may lead them to run.  NRS Why They Run ReportNRS Why They Run Fact Sheet

LGBTQ homeless youth experience an average of 7.4 more acts of sexual violence toward them than their heterosexual peers. (Cochran et al, 2002)

LGBTQ youth may have twice the rates of sexual victimization on the streets as non-LGBTQ homeless youth, and LGBTQ youth reports double the rates of sexual abuse before age 12. (Rew et al, 2005)

LGBTQ homeless youth are also more likely to attempt suicide (62 percent) than their heterosexual homeless peers (29 percent).  (Van Leeuwen et al, 2006)

LGBTQ youth suffer disproportionately when they age out of the foster system. For example, while many youth who age out of the foster care system suffer economic hardship, 38 percent of LGBT youth report not being able to pay their rent in the past year compared to 25 percent of heterosexual youth. (Dworsky, 2013)

LGBTQ youth who age out of the foster care system report high levels of food insecurity with 34 percent of youth reporting that they had been hungry but couldn’t afford food at some point during the past year compared to 14 percent of heterosexual youth. (Dworsky, 2013)


Al-Tayyib, A., Rice, E., Rhoades, H., & Riggs, P. (2014). Association between prescription drug misuse and injection among runaway and homeless youth. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 134: 406-409.

Aratani, Y. & Cooper, J. (2015). The Effects of Runaway-Homeless Episodes on High School Dropout. Youth & Society. 47(2): 173-198.

Bender, K., Thompson, S., Ferguson, K., & Langenderfer, L. (2014). Substance use predictors of victimization profiles among homeless youth: A latent class analysis. Journal of Adolescence 37: 155-164.

Brakenhoff, B., Jang, B., Slesnick, N., & Snyder, A. (2015). Longitudinal predictors of homelessness: findings from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-97. 18(8): 1015-1034.

CDC, 2011. Vital signs: overdoses of prescription opioid pain relievers – United States, 1999–2008. Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 60: 1487–1492.

Cochran, Bryan N., Stewart, Angela J., Ginzler, Joshua A., and Ana Mari Cauce. 2002.Challenges Faced by Homeless Sexual Minorities: Comparison of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Homeless Adolescents With Their Heterosexual Counterparts. American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 5: 773-777. Rew, Lynn, Tayler-Seehafer, Margaret and Maureen Fitzgerald. 2001 Sexual Abuse, Alcohol and Other Drug Use, and Suicidal Behaviors in Homeless Adolescents. Issues in Contemporary Pediatric Nursing 24: 225-240.

Cole, J., Sprang, G., Lee, R., & Cohen, J. (2014). The Trauma of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. First published online.

Dworsky, A. (2013). The Economic Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care. Mathematica Policy Research.

Dworsky, Dillman, Dion, Coffee-Borden, & Rosenau, Housing for Youth Aging out of Foster Care: A Review of the Literature and Program Typology, March 2012.

Hammer, H., Finkelhor, D., & Sedlak, A. (2002). Runaway / Thrownaway Children: National Estimates and Characteristics. National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Harding, B. (2015). An Exploratory Study of the Relationship between Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Youth Homelessness. UC Berkeley Published Works. Accessed at: file:///C:/Users/JenBB/Downloads/eScholarship%20UC%20item%2076s0t6cq.pdf

“Homelessness During the Transition from Foster Care to Adulthood” (abstract). American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 103, No. S2 (December 2013).

Greene, J. (1995). Youth with Runaway, Throwaway, and Homeless Experiences: Prevalence, Drug Use, and Other At-Risk Behaviors. Research Triangle Institute. HHS. ACF – ACYF.

Molnar, B., Shade, S., Kral, A., Booth, R., & Watters, J. (1998). Suicidal Behavior and Sexual /Physical Abuse Among Street Youth. Child Abuse & Neglect. Vol. 22, NO. 3, pp. 213-222.

Reid, J., & Piquero, A. (2014). Age-Graded Risks for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Male and Female Youth. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 29(9): 1747-1777.

Rew, Lynn, Whittaker, Tiffany A., Taylor-Seehafer, Margaret, and Lorie R. Smith. 2005. Sexual Health Risks and Protective Resources in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Homeless Youth. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing 10, no. 1: 11-20.

Van Leeuwen, James M., Boyle, Susan, Salomonsen-Sautel, Stacy, Baker, D Nico, Garcia, JT, Hoffman, Allison and Christian J. Hopfer. 2006. Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Homeless Youth: An Eight City Public Health Perspective. Child Welfare 85, no. 2: 151-170. See also, Whitbeck, Les B., Chen, Xiaojin, Hoyt, Dan R., Tyler, Kimberly A. and Kurt D. Johnson. 2004. Mental Disorder, Subsistence Strategies, and Victimization Among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Homeless and Runaway Adolescents. The Journal of Sex Research 41, no. 4: 329-342.

Walls, E., & Bell, S. (2011). Correlates of Engaging in Survival Sex among Homeless Youth and Young Adults. Journal of Sex Research, 48(5), 423–436.

Westat, Inc. 1997. National Evaluation of Runaway and Homeless Youth. Washington, DC: US Dept of HHS, Admin on Children, Youth and Families.

Yoder, J., Bender, K. Thompson, S., Ferguson, K., & Haffejee, B. (2013). Explaining Homeless Youths’ Criminal Justice Interactions: Childhood Trauma or Surviving Life on the Streets? Community Mental Health Journal. 50: 135-144.