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Consequences of Youth Homelessness 1

The Psychological and Social Consequences of Youth Homelessness

Naleah Chisolm

Tallwood High School Global Studies and World Languages Academy

Global Connections

Mr. Gregory Falls

Consequences of Youth Homelessness 2


Homelessness is an event that can prove to be traumatic for youth. It can result in

negative social and psychological consequences. The turbulence from the constant moves,

family breakups, and loss of contact with family can severely impact a childs everyday life. It

starts with internal conflict, which is the psychological aspect of it, and later spreads into the

community, which is the social aspect of it. A child can develop PTSD, behavioral issues, and

depression. One of the leading causes of youth homelessness is violence and trauma. These

traumatic events, if severe enough, can leave a child with PTSD which will make them

vulnerable if they interact with their trigger. Violence can also lead to a child experiencing

behavioral issues, such as aggression or withdrawal. Depression can branch out into several

other psychological consequences like suicidal thoughts or anxiety. These things can spread from

internally to externally and change how a homeless child interacts with their community and

society. Common social consequences are low self-esteem, trust issues, social isolation. All

consequences, whether they be social or psychological, have a detrimental effect on the childs

everyday life from the point of childhood to adulthood. Proper healthcare, like mental health

screening at homeless shelters and monitoring for things like signs of PTSD or depression could

help to diminish these consequences from being seen later in life and prove to help the well-

being of the homeless child.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents.3


Literature Review....5




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Many of Americas very own children are thrown into the harsh world of homelessness

and when they escape it they are left with metaphorical battle scars. Youth homelessness can be

defined as anyone aged 18 or younger who is without a permanent home, this includes living on

the streets, in a car, in a shelter, or bouncing from couch to couch, for any period longer than one

to two months. Youth homelessness is a major issue that needs to be fixed for two major reasons;

the psychological damage and the damage that can be done unto the childs social aspects of life.

In January, 2013 there were 610,042 homeless people and 138,149, 23%, homeless children

under the age of 18. In 2014, there were 45,205 unaccompanied homeless children. This is

obviously a major issue because the Department of Justice estimates that every year 1.7 million

teens will experience homelessness. Homelessness is even a big issue in the city of Virginia

Beach. According to PIT data, count of homeless children seen in a single day, there are on

average 122 homeless children exposed to the elements and this cruel world every day. As of

February, 2015 the number of homeless children in the United States has reached a record high

and additionally a quarter of this homeless youth population need mental health services (Kulze,

2015). Youth homelessness usually goes hand in hand with social and psychological disorders.

Though they have a very strong correlation, this does not mean that one is caused by the other.

Homeless youth are more likely to suffer from extreme levels of distress, low self-esteem,

depression, mental health problems and behavioral problems because they are victims of or

witnesses to abuse. The psychological and social well-being of our children can be ensured with
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one simple solution; each homeless shelter should have at least one person that specializes in the

field of psychology or psychiatry. Diagnosing these social or psychological disorders before they

worsen can prove extremely beneficial, especially since, around 80% of homeless youth (18-21)

use some form of drug or alcohol to self-medicate.

Literature Review

Causes of youth homelessness. The National Coalition for the

Homeless found that the reasons behind youth homelessness fall into one of

three categories: family problems, economic problems, and residential

instability. Strained or tense relationships with family members due to

neglect, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, or addiction is one of the

reasons that children become homeless and the leading cause of

unaccompanied youth, minors who lack some form of foster, parental, or

institutional care, leave home and go out on their own. When the family of a

child goes through a financial hardship that causes them to lose their

housing then the entire family becomes homeless but on occasion , due to

going through numerous shelters or things put in place to protect children

such as child welfare policies, the child becomes separated from their family.

Lastly, residential instability can lead youth homelessness. Some youth that

go to foster care become too old to stay in the system and are therefore

forced to leave. There are also the cases of children who are homeless with
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their families and want to avoid separation so they go to the shelters.

Additionally, most shelters make the inhabitants get out during the day to

look for jobs and be productive so if the family or child isnt back to the

shelter early enough there is no guaranteed housing. The National Center for

Family Homelessness determined that there are six main causes for youth

homelessness: high poverty rates, lack of affordable housing, racial

disparities, challenges of single parenting, domestic violence and other

traumatic experiences, and the lingering effects of the recession. Similarly,

the National Center for Children in Poverty found, through an article (Aratani,

2009), that the top three leading causes for homelessness among children

are lack of affordable housing, poverty, and domestic violence. Along with

those reasons, a report written for the National Center on Homelessness

includes that the impact of the Great Recession of 2007, which is still

endured to this day in the labor market, also contributes to child

homelessness. People are still having trouble getting jobs and back on their

feet which ties in with the economic problems expressed previously. The

Washington Post claims that one of the biggest reasons for such a drastic

increase in youth homelessness is the increasing openness of children with

their sexualities. The American Psychological association reports that family

conflict is the primary cause of youth homelessness. 46% of the homeless

youth claimed that they left because of experiencing abuse and about 20-
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40% identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender. Also, 46% of teens say

that family rejection due to their sexual orientation or gender identity was a

cause for them becoming homeless (Durso, L.E., and G.J. Gates)

The homeless youth population. In 2013, one out of every 30

children experienced homelessness in the U.S. That means that in 2.5 million

children were living in cars, shelters, with other family members, or the

streets. From 2012 to 2013 the United States experienced and 8% increase

in the homeless youth population (Ziv, 2014). Statistics on Homeless Youth

in America(2014) says approximately 40% of the homeless in the United

States are under 18, that is an overwhelming amount of youth that are on

their own and must suffer for reasons out of their control. Homeless youth

are more susceptible to adopt unsafe sex habits, abuse drugs and alcohol,

develop physical illnesses or disabilities, and develop social and

psychological issues. They are also more likely to have a hard time getting

an education or a job (Consequences of Youth Homelessness, n.d.). Reasons

like these, and many others, are why homeless youth has been classified as

a high risk target (Foon, 2005)

Social consequences of youth homelessness. Interaction issues,

disrespecting authority, and trust issues only scrape the surface of the social

issues that come with being a homeless or previously homeless youth . Being
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homeless is extremely traumatic for children because they experience family

break-ups, moving often, and living in small crowded spaces (National

Center on Family Homelessness, 2011). Homelessness can also lead to a low

self-esteem. In fact, most homeless youth stay homeless for longer than they

need to because their self-esteem plummeted to such a low point that they

are ashamed to even ask for help. From the age of four to the age of six a

child is beginning to ponder and understand what normal is. This period is

very important for the development of a child because also at these ages is

when a child learns how to truly interact with others, usually in a school

setting. Usually what the homeless child will see as normal is living in their

temporary housing, they will just assume everyone does. According to

Piaget, from two to seven a child is in the preoperational stage of

development, they are egocentric and unable to see things from others

viewpoints. When the child interacts with other children they might come

across the feeling that their normal isnt actually everybody elses

normal and this is when problems begin to arise. A homeless child may

experience social isolation, social anxiety, or even withdrawal (Ellen Bassuk,

Steve Friedman, et al., 2005)

Psychological consequences. The most apparent and common

psychological consequences of homelessness on children are depression ,

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PTSD, and behavioral issues. Depression usually goes collectively with

suicidal thoughts or attempts. From an experiment conducted by the Youth

Accommodation Association, research findings concluded that, as of April

2005, 14% of homeless youth had clinical levels of depression and in the

prior 3 months, 11% had attempted suicide. (Health and Youth

Homelessness, 2005). Often times when it comes to youth homelessness,

abuse is experienced. 71.7% of homeless youth reported experiencing

physical or sexual abuse (Street Outreach Program, 2014). Experience with

abuse can go two ways: PTSD or behavioral issues. Some children were so

deeply affected by their abuse experience that it begins to take over their

lives and they can become easily triggered by everyday things that remind

them of the abuse or abusive situation. The other way is behavioral issues,

such as aggression. Like I stated earlier, the ages of four to six is when a

child learns whats normal. If they experience violence to an extent it will get

embedded in their mind that this is what normal is and they will act

abusively towards others.

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Lack of resources. As a high school, students I cannot access all the information needed

to verify the claims of the resources that I can find. For example, I simply cannot go out and

interview all the homeless people and homeless shelters and ask if they have experienced any of

the mentioned consequences for numerous reasons. Firstly, some may not be willing to answer

my questions because most people dont want to admit that theyre homeless or in need of help.

Its in human nature to want to seem like we have things under our own control so some of the

homeless may not even answer honestly. Also, if a homeless shelter doesnt have a professional

who can deem whether someone is experiencing things like PTSD or depression then they cant

make that claim. Without evidence their claims would be invalid. Lastly, because of my location

I cannot easily go and collect my own data and do my own studies about the homeless youth in

all of America.

Time. To do this senior project, students are only given the time frame of September to

about May. Since the consequences of homelessness are constantly changing, with some being

taken off the list because they are no longer seen in homeless youth to some being added since

they are suddenly being seen more often, this is not enough time to truly grasp and take in all the

possible consequences of homelessness at a young age.

Bias. Most of my resources come from organizations that advocate for the well-being of

children. They are also usually non-profit organizations that need funding to stay up and running.

Due to both factors combined, the resources that I did find may embellish things to make them
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seem more harmful than they are and I have no ability to decline their information and say that it

is false. Also, as a youth myself I sympathize with these homeless children and I have a personal



In 2009, approximately 170,000 families were documented as

sheltered and unsheltered homeless; this is a drastic 30% increase since

2007. The U.S Conference of Mayors collected data to determine the leading

causes behind youth homelessness. They found that the top three reasons

were lack of affordable housing, poverty, and a tie between unemployment

and domestic violence (Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness , 2009).

Over 60% of the people in those 170,000 homeless families were under the

age of 18. A shocking 52.6% were under six years of age, 32.5% were of age

six to twelve, and 14.8% are thirteen to seventeen years of age. 1.4 million

students were homeless in the United States at the beginning of the 2013-

2014 school year. This increasing trend of homeless youth in the United

States has led this country to where it is now; with a historic high of

homeless youth. In 2013, one in 30 kids experienced homelessness at some

point during the year. That means that nearly 2.5 million children were living

out of shelters, cars, campgrounds, on the street, or living in the houses of

family members or friends temporarily (Ziv, 2014). At least of all homeless

children have experienced or witnessed violence.

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Take that and add the 80% of youth who use alcohol and drugs to self-

medicate and that presents a dangerous combination. In an attempt to prove

that homeless youth are a high risk group the Youth Association

Accommodation conducted a survey to find out the amount of homeless

youth who partake in alcohol or drug use. The results portrayed that, in the

last three months, seventy-two percent used tobacco, eighty percent

consumed alcohol, seventy percent used marijuana, and twenty-six percent

used heroin. The National Conference of State Legislatures deemed that

homeless youth are more likely to partake in high risk behaviors as well as

being at a greater risk of severe anxiety, depression, suicide/suicidal

thoughts, low self-esteem, and low self-efficacy. All of these aspects and

factors combined turn into a diabolical concoction that is sure to wreak havoc

on the psychological and social aspects of a homeless childs life. Homeless

youth are more at risk to developing issues that will later affect them in life

and as said by Mitchell and Rosenthal (1994) For homeless youth, additional

factors such as lack of self-esteem, economic power, psychological and

social problems make this group separate and distinct from the rest of the

general youth population.

The psychological consequences have to do with the childs interaction

internally. Sometimes the effects of these psychological consequences are

noticed immediately and other times the effects are seen years down the
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road; it depends on the severity and the individual child. Regardless of when

the effects are seen, they will continue to affect the child throughout their

entire life. The three psychological consequences that are seen most often

arising from youth homelessness are depression, PTSD, and behavioral

issues (American Psychological Association, n.d.).

Of the mentioned consequences, depression is the one seen most

often and is worried about most by

psychologists, psychiatrists, parents, doctors, and etc. all over the

world. Half of school age homeless children suffer from

depression. Depression affects every aspect of a sufferers life. It can impact

their health, its been proven that depression could lead to obesity, heart

problems, and high blood pressure, as well as impacting the mental health of

one who has depression; such as feelings of hopelessness, low self-

esteem, and of course suicide or suicidal thoughts. It is an immense concern

to diagnose and treat the homeless youth suffering from all forms of

depression across the spectrum because depression is usually associated

with suicide/suicidal thoughts. Due to the fact that correlation does not

imply causation one cant assume that depression causes suicide or suicidal

thoughts or vice versa. This point is echoed in the sentiment conducted by

the Youth Accommodation Association concluded that 14% of the homeless

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youth had clinical levels of depression and 11% attempted suicide in the last

three months (Health and Youth Homelessness, 2005).

Seventy-one percent of homeless youth experienced physical or sexual

abuse in some fashion at some point in their life. This abuse will most likely

lead to trauma, which on the most severe cases turns into Post-Traumatic

Stress Disorder (Facts on Homelessness and Trauma, n.d.) Adversities like

losing stable shelter, not knowing where the next meal will be coming

from, and losing connections with family members are all likely causes of

PTSD in homeless youth. PTSD is also a major concern because of the fact

that it could develop while the person is homeless or after they get back on

their feet and start to get their life together. Similar to depression, living with

PTSD is no walk in the park. Simple situations like seeing someone beg for

money or things that remind the sufferer of their previous life while they

were homeless suddenly become deadly triggers. Once a trigger is

activated, it varies from person to person, it may take a while to get said

person back to how they were before. Some people when they get triggered

they simply need to step outside and take a breather while others become

emotional, violent, and completely shut down.

The last of the major psychological consequences of homelessness are

behavioral issues. Behavioral issues can also be caused by numerous things

like experiencing violence, losing contact with family members, or constant

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moves from place to place. The most common types of behavioral issues are

withdrawal and aggression. If a homeless child has experienced losing the

contact of someone close to them or a loved one usually they refrain from

making close bonds with in the future. They withdrawal themselves from

others as a fear of losing another close contact. Theres also the case of

aggression which usually shows up when violence is experienced or

witnessed. Age four to six is when a child learns what normal is. If they

often witnessed or experienced violence they will assume that that is the

way that things are supposed to be. Growing up with that mindset ensures

that the child is on the pathway to aggression later in life.

Depression, PTSD, and behavioral issues are the main three

consequences because everything else is a variation or somehow intertwined

with these three. Anxiety is also being noticed more in homeless children.

Anxieties like specific phobias, situational anxiety, and panic disorders are

usually the worst case scenarios because they impact all aspects of

life. Even anxiety that impacts how you interact with others, social anxiety,

plays a key role in how a homeless child will make it through life. Behavioral

issues such as aggression or withdrawal may start internally but it becomes

an immense problem when a child starts to feel withdrawal, aggression, or

even violence towards other children or other people in their surrounding

environment. All these psychological consequences are connected by at

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least one thing; they have a detrimental impact on all aspects of the

life, current and future, as well as the growth of a child.

Whereas there are certainly multiple levels to fully discuss regarding

the psychological, it is essential to delve into the social as well. The social

consequences of homelessness play a role in how children interact with

others and their community from the point of homelessness, onward. The

most popular social consequences seen with homeless children are trust

issues, low self-esteem, and social isolation.

Trust issues are commonly associated with turbulence in the life of the

homeless child (McCoy-Roth, Macintosh, Murphey, 2012). Turbulence is a

term to describe the adversities in a childs life; adversities such as frequent

moves, no shelter whatsoever for a period of time, and the most apparent

reason for trust issues, loss of family or loss of communication with a family

member. Often times the family members care about the well-being of a

child so they put them somewhere that they know the child will be taken

care of, like foster care or child only shelters, despite the wants of the

child. This causes family split-ups which is major turbulence in the childs

life. In the future the child either takes an extensive amount of time to

develop a close relationship with other people or they never develop

true, close, and trusting relationships with others and all due to the

turbulence previously experienced in their life.

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Low self-esteem plays a part in every single aspect of the childs life. A

study showed that most homeless children stay homeless longer than they

need to due to the fact that they are too ashamed to ask for help. Not only

can low self-esteem prove to be a problem during the homelessness but also

after the child is out of homelessness. Low self-esteem can also be linked to

conditions like depression and having suicidal thoughts or actions. When

they are in a school environment they are more likely to participate in risky

behaviors. They participate in activities like drugs, drinking alcohol, and

having unsafe sex in order to try and boost their confidence and fit in. It can

also lead to other dangerous behaviors that may affect not only the suffering

child, but also the children or others in the childs life. The child could

become a bully and feel the need to lower the self-esteem of others in an

attempt to raise their own. Regardless of the outcome of low self-esteem,

low self-esteem alone is enough to drastically affect a child later in life.

This ties in with the incredibly important consequence of social

isolation. When a child learns that their definition of normal isnt like

everybody elses they may feel as if they dont feel in or belong. As a result

of this they dont experience shunning from other children and later in life

maybe even from other adults. They also make no attempts to develop

relationships with others because it seems hopeless to even try to fit in.

Social isolation also plays a big role in the mental state of the child. If they
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frequently experience severe social isolation and it is added to any of the

consequences mentioned before, said child is on the path to developing

depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.

Coincidentally, all of these consequences are usually caused by similar

factors and are often seen in combinations in the homeless children because

they relate so closely to each other. Depression can lead to a lower work

ethic for the child in the future. With little to no work ethic in the work

field, or even during high school the future does not look very successful for

the child. Low self-esteem is also known to lead to feelings of hopelessness

and suicidal thoughts similar to depression. Homeless children are more

likely to have issues with education and employment in the future. With a job

they will become impoverished and be homeless once again. All the

consequences, in some form keep the circle of homelessness revolving.

To end this cycle, many solutions are possible but the most obvious

and the least time consuming would be professional help in the shelters.

Many homeless youths suffer longer than they need to due to the fact that

they cant get the proper healthcare needed. Having a psychologists or

psychiatrists within the homeless shelters will greatly alleviate the anguish

already bestowed upon their young lives. A professional will be able to

diagnose the child if they exhibit signs of depression, PTSD, or behavioral

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issues before its too late. Also having some kind of counselor just for the

youth to talk about their problems when needed will greatly help them

integrate back into society with less difficulties.


Homelessness at a young age leaves a child with detrimental

psychological and social scars that will prove to provide difficulties for them

later in life. Psychological issues deal with how the child interacts with

themselves. Though for the most part, psychological consequences are

internal issues they can spread to the community surrounding the child and

at that point is when the issues become social issues. The consequences of

homelessness may be short or long lived but regardless of that, it will impact

the child from their childhood throughout their adulthood.

The most common psychological consequences within homeless

children are Depression. PTSD, and behavioral issues. All of these relate to

each other in some way and also branch off into different severities which is

why they are so dangerous. Depression can often be seen linked with

withdrawal, which is a behavioral issue, and can lead to suicidal thoughts or

self-harming. PTSD can be linked with depression and can branch off into

anxieties and phobias. Lastly, behavioral issues can branch off into
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aggression towards oneself but even worse is that it could spread to the

community of the children.

As previously said, these psychological consequences can leak from

the inner being of the child to their surrounding world. Low self-esteem,

social isolation, and trust issues most commonly relate to the social

consequences experienced by homeless youth. Low self-esteem can lead the

child to suffer longer than they need to because they are ashamed to ask for

help, especially when it comes to education. Homeless youth are already

more at risk to having difficulties later in life with employment and education

and low self-esteem just adds to it. Social isolation leads the child to

participate in dangerous behaviors in order to attempt to fit in with the

wrong crowd. Trust issues lead the child to have difficulties forming close

bonds later in life with others; this usually results in constant family breakups

experienced in shelters.

Having a health professional who can diagnose the childs issues and

listen to their problems could make the path of integrating back into society

much easier on the child.


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