Every three years, Wilder Research conducts a one-night statewide survey of homeless people in Minnesota to better understand the prevalence, causes, circumstances, and effects of homelessness. The most recent study was conducted on October 22, 2015.

As part of this study, Wilder Research analyzed a subset of the overall population: youth on their own.

An estimated 6,000 Minnesota youth on their own experience homelessness on any given night.

This includes an estimated 2,500 minors age 17 and younger, and 3,500 young adults age 18-24. This estimate is considered conservative; the actual number of unaccompanied youth is likely considerably higher.

Young people on their own are some of the least visible and most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness. They are less likely than adults to stay in shelters, and have fewer legal provisions for housing and other basic needs.

Key Findings

On October 22, 2015, 1,463 unaccompanied youth were identified as homeless. Of these, 213 were age 17 and younger, and 1,250 were age 18-24. Youth on their own make up 16 percent of the total homeless population counted.

  • Racial disparities are particularly glaring in the population of youth experiencing homelessness. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of homeless youth were African American, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, or of mixed race, compared to just 26 percent of all Minnesota youth.
  • Many youth experiencing homelessness have children of their own. Forty-eight percent of homeless female youth have had children; 41 percent have children with them. Thirty-five percent of all homeless youth are parents; 26 percent have at least one child with them.
  • Nine out of 10 youth had experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, including trauma and abuse. More than half of youth (54%) had been physically or sexually abused, or neglected; 54 percent experienced an out-of-home placement; 61 percent lived with a substance abuser; 60 percent witnessed abuse; and 48 percent lived with a parent/guardian with mental illness.
  • The majority of youth have serious health issues including mental health or chronic physical health problems. Fifty-seven percent report significant mental health issues and 36 percent have chronic physical health problems. Anxiety or panic disorders are the most common mental health issues (37%), 19 percent report symptoms of a traumatic brain injury, and about 13 percent report a drug or alcohol abuse disorder. Homeless youth were less likely to have health issues than homeless adults.
  • Over half (53%) have experienced violence and exploitation. One-third of youth (33%) have stayed in an abusive situation to avoid being without a place to live, and 14 percent have been sexual with someone in order to secure shelter, clothing, or food. Nineteen percent of homeless youth have been attacked while homeless.
  • Youth are least likely to use shelters and the majority are long-term homeless. Forty-four percent of homeless youth age 17 and younger, and 29 percent age 18-24 were not in shelters on the night of the study. In the previous 30 days, 47 percent had couch hopped or doubled up at least one night and 30 percent had stayed outside at least once. Twenty-four percent of youth had been turned away from shelter due to lack of space. Of homeless youth interviewed, 56 percent meet the Minnesota definition of “long-term” homelessness (homeless at least a year, or four times in the last three years). Forty-seven percent had been homeless for one year or more.
  • Youth face many barriers to obtaining stable housing. Most homeless youth have built no credit histories and landlords may hesitate to rent to them. The most common barriers to housing include lack of job or income (36%), no affordable housing (23%), or not knowing how to find rental housing (13%). Thirty-four percent of youth were on a waiting list for Section 8 housing, and 10 percent couldn’t get on a waiting list because it was closed.

Youth experiencing homelessness are resilient and many are accessing the much needed resources and services available to support them.

  • Homeless youth are pursuing educational opportunities. Ninety-one percent of minors were enrolled in school. Sixty-eight percent of youth age 19-24 had completed high school or a GED. Fifty-two percent of young adults were enrolled in an educational program.
  • Homeless youth are employed or seeking employment. Forty-two percent were employed at the time of the survey. This is a higher rate of employment than among all homeless adults age 18 or older (30%).
  • Homeless youth have health care. Sixty-nine percent of homeless youth and 81 percent of those with children had medical coverage. Sixty percent of homeless youth said they have a regular place to go for health care, which was most often a clinic requiring fees or insurance.
  • Homeless youth have access to food assistance. Sixty-six percent of youth receive at least one type of food assistance, including SNAP/food stamps (41%), food shelf (29%), hot meal program (25%), and WIC (19%).

Intervening early is the key to breaking the cycle of homelessness.

  • One-quarter of homeless adults report that their first experience of homelessness was as a child (age 17 or younger). These rates are even higher for homeless adults who are American Indian (44% homeless as a child) or African American (32% homeless as a child).
  • Youth experiencing homelessness do not yet have the severity or chronicity of some of the problems experienced by homeless adults, including chronic physical health problems, substance abuse, and traumatic brain injury.
Read the full report: Homelessness in Minnesota: Youth on Their Own - Findings from the 2015 Minnesota Homeless Study (pdf)


Detailed Data Tables

Demographic characteristics
By age group | By shelter type

Current episode and history of homelessness
By age group | By shelter type

Housing history
By age group | By shelter type

Placement outside of the home
By age group | By shelter type

Correctional facilities
By age group | By shelter type

Income and service use
By age group | By shelter type

Employment
By age group | By shelter type

Homeless youth with children
By age group | By shelter type

Physical and mental health
By age group | By shelter type

Tobacco, alcohol, and chemical dependency
By age group | By shelter type

Physical and sexual abuse
By age group | By shelter type

Contact with family
By age group | By shelter type

Education and job training
By age group | By shelter type

Detailed data tables from previous studies.