Alone Without a Home: A State-by-State Review of Laws Affecting Unaccompanied Youth

Alone Without a Home, a new report by the Law Center and the National Network for Youth reveals a disturbing truth: 1.6 million youth experience homelessness without a parent or guardian each year, facing numerous barriers to meeting basic needs. This report explains why these youth become homeless and reviews current laws affecting them in all 50 states and 6 U.S. territories. Common causes include severe family conflict, parental abuse or neglect, parental mental health issues, and substance abuse. Prior to leaving home, almost half of all unaccompanied youth report being beaten by a caretaker, while one out of four had caretakers request sexual activity. The rights of unaccompanied youth widely vary from state to state, and it is often difficult for youth and homeless service providers to clarify their legal protections and eligibility for housing, health care, and education services. Moreover, many unaccompanied youth do not seek out help because they assume they will be turned away, or even fear being taken into state custody. The report recommends eliminating laws that criminally punish unaccompanied youth as runaways or truants, in favor of policies that divert them from court involvement. It also calls on states to expand access to housing, health care, education, and other stabilizing services. This includes allowing youth to contract for housing, receive medical treatment, and enroll in school without parental consent. (September 2012)