Author: Jieyi Chen

Program of Study: Master of Public Policy (MPP), Harris School of Public Policy (HAR)

(Source: photo by Shutterstock (2015))

Description: In 2018, 6,475 kids under 18 years old were homeless in Chicago according to Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. This podcast concerns the severity of youth homelessness in Chicago and the United States, why things become like this and how to tackle it.

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Transcript (provided by author):

Recently, I have been reading a book by Mathew Desmond, called Evicted, Poverty and Profit in the American City. Curious on what things will happen after eviction, espesically for the youth who have no income and no ability to earn a living.

Then I checked online how many homeless youth are there in Chicago. In this podcast, homeless youth is referred to unaccompanied minors under 18 years old. And I found an astounding number of 6,745 according to Chicago Coalition for the Homeless in 2018.

I just cannot imagine how life would be if I were among those 6,745 homeless youth, who may live in there relatives and friends houses, or share a shelter with all kinds of strangers, or poorly sleep on the streets.

We do need to pay attention to the social problem not only because of the astounding number, but also because of the poor situations of the group.

First, homeless youth are easily abused. A homeless report by Chicago Department of Family and Support Services in 2018 says, they have to trade something for a place to sleep, by trafficking, by trading sex acts or something else.

Second, they can hardly study or work. Without even a place to take a rest, physical conditions for study or work cannot be satisfied. How can they even make themselves

Third, things are becoming worse due to a vicious cycle in funding them. 2018 report by Chicago Department of Family and Support Services also mentions that homeless youngsters hardly seek for official or city services, but rather turn to their social cycles for sheltering, therefore it is hard for the government to find them. Chicago’s point-in-time count in 2018 only found 7 versus Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’s 6,745. This leads to inproportionally less funding in next few years.

Actually, Youth homelessness is a severe problem nation-wide: in the U.S., there are around 700,000 homeless youth ages 13 to 17 according to a 2017 study by the The U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Development.

To tackle the problem, the priority is to understand why. After some research on this group, I hold the opinion that family and parents are the main reasons, but not children themselves. It is time to tweak the mis-cognition on homeless youth.

One group is purely due to parents. According to a 2019 report by Congressional Research on Runaway and Homeless Youth, family conflict is the main reason for being homeless cited by the youth. Unstable families can experience parent losses, parents’ misbehavior such as having drugs and alcohol, in-and-out-of prisons.

The other group of reasons is related to youth themselves, Paul and others’ research for homeless youth in the U.S. in 2007, and Michael and others’ research on Family Interventions for Youth Experiencing or At Risk of Homelessness in 2016, point out sexual activities, sexual orientation, pregnancy, school problems, and alcohol and drug use are the reasons for family discords.

Some teenagers may have their own problems and misbehaviors, but how could parents just abandon and let go them because of some mistakes in their early life? Their life can only be worse without parents’ financial support and education.

Therefore, the later group shoud be the outcome of families and parents’ non-behavior.

From the standpoint of parenting and following this path of becoming homeless, I hope that we can prevent the crisis from actually happening. Some solutions can found by tracing back to potential parents and finding the attributes of unstable families. The Geelong Project has already been doing so by collaborating with educational systems and has reached good outcomes according to Voice of the Youth Count evaluation.

My solutions following this path is by providing condoms to people who actually cannot raise up children and abandon them later in life. Some parents do not want to feed so many kids but they have no choices when having sex. At least they can determine by themselves whether they will have kids or not with condoms on hand.

At the very last, I wanna say that youth homeless is more than related to kids, parents and organizations, but to much broader structural problems on unaffordabel renting prices, inequality and poverty, also around LGBTQ group and ethnic groups. And I am calling out more people to care about the poor homeless kids because they are part of the future. I hope we can help young people who are in homeless and see fewer and fewer such cases. Thanks for your listening.




  1. Fernandes-Alcantara, Adrienne L. “Runaway and homeless youth: Demographics and programs.” Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress (2019).
  2. “City of Chicago 2018 Homeless Point-in-Time Count & Survey Report”, Chicago Department of Family and Support Services & Nathalie P.Voorhees Center for the Neighborhood and Community Improvement (2018).
  3. Paul A.Toro, Amy Dworsky, and Patrick J. Fowler. “Homeless Youth in the United States: Recent Research Findings and Intervention Approaches.”, HUD, Office of Policy Development and Research (2007).
  4. Michael Pergamit et al., “Family Interventions for Youth Experiencing or At Risk of Homelessness.”, Urban Institute, for HHS, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (2016).
  5. Paul Dailing. “Curious City: To Help Homeless Kids In Chicago, First You Have To Find Them.”, WBEZ (2019).
  6. Morton, Matthew H., Amy Dworsky, and Gina Miranda Samuels. “Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America. National Estimates.” Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago (2017).
  7. Morton, M. H., et al. “Missed Opportunities: Evidence on Interventions for Addressing Youth Homelessness.” Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago (2019).