SOAR Voices


The Hidden Homeless – Transition Age Youth

When one thinks about the demographic of people most often affected by homelessness, an image of a single adult often comes to mind, maybe a veteran, or a family that has been displaced into homelessness.  However, homelessness among teens and young adults has risen in recent years.  This demographic is known as the ”transition age youth,” often defined as someone between the ages of 16-25.   This group of individuals often presents with unique service challenges being that they are too old for child services but often not ready or eligible for adult services.  This population is also often times ”hidden” in plain sight; homeless youth do not tend to have the appearance of the stereotypical individual experiencing homelessness, nor would you expect to see a homeless youth residing at the local adult shelter, or seeking services alongside homeless adults.  Due to this, the issue of homelessness among youth continues to grow. 

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that about 50,000 youth in the U.S. sleep on the street for 6 months or more, and approximately 550,000 unaccompanied single youth and young adults up to age 24 experience an episode of homelessness longer than one week.
  • The 2014 Point-In-Time Estimates on Homelessness, which were counted on a single night in January 2014, counted 45,205 unaccompanied children and youth experiencing homelessness nationwide.
    • Eighty-six percent (38,931 individuals) were between the ages of 18 and 24, while the remaining 14 percent were under the age of 18.  (Given the difficulty of counting youth experiencing homelessness, that estimate is likely an undercount.)
  • Of those youth experiencing street homelessness:
    • Approximately 55 percent were male, 40 percent female, and 5 percent identified as transgender.
    • Approximately 33–40 percent identified as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning).
    • Over 25 percent of youth had a history of foster care, had resided in group homes, or been in juvenile detention.
    • It was also estimated that the ethnic groups most affected by youth homelessness were African American and Native Americans

The experience of many homeless youth is often compounded by the fact that they may be experiencing symptoms of untreated mental or physical disabilities.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers a variety of programs to assist youth, these programs include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for disabled children, SSI for children who transition to adults, benefits for Disabled Adult Children (including Title II Social Security Disability Insurance benefits), and employment programs for youth looking to begin or transition back to work (such as the Youth Transition Demonstration project).  Overall, SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access & Recovery) can play a key role in assisting youth transitioning out of homelessness and on the road to recovery.

For more information on Transition Age Youth and Social Security benefits for children and youth:

Youth Transition Demonstration. (n.d.). Retrieved from

The views, opinions, and content expressed in SOAR Voices do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors.