U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesAdministration for Children & FamiliesFamily and Youth Services Bureau

The Problem

Infographic for showing 550,000 young people

As many as 550,000 young people each year are homeless for more than a week, according to estimates by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Alone on the street, youth can become victims of violence, develop serious mental health and addiction problems, and be forced to trade sex for food and shelter.

Learn more about the experiences of homeless youth in the 2016 report on street outreach programs.

What Youth Homelessness Is—and Isn’t

You might not realize a young person was homeless if you passed them on the street or in the halls of your local school. Homeless youth can be found living on the street, on a friend’s couch or in temporary shelter.

No one’s experience is the same.

Anthony Ross: Up From Trauma

Anthony Ross witnessed violence in his home as a child then ended up homeless as a teenager.


NCFY: Welcome to NCFY Voices, a podcast series from the family & youth services bureau.

Anthony Ross’s story is right there in the title of the memoir he recently published: Homeless at age 13 to a college graduate. Indeed, Anthony survived the death of loved ones, a traumatic home situation, and years on the street before emerging as an advocate and a law student. He shared his story with a national TV audience as part of FYSB’s event “Ending Youth Homelessness: A Call to Action,” held at the National Press Club in October 2014.

Here are his full remarks from the event.

ANTHONY ROSS: Good afternoon, everyone. I am Anthony Ross, a twenty-four-year-old African-American male. And my dream is to show the people of the world that they can become successful no matter the circumstances.

At age thirteen, I lost my grandmother, who was the sole caretaker, to heart disease. I never knew my dad and my mother was a drug addict. When I lived with my mom after my grandmother’s death, she had my sisters and I living in a house with no water, heat and electricity for months due to her drug use. My mother’s attempt to take care of my sisters and me only lasted nine months. We ran out of the house one night when she tried to murder us with the meat cleaver.

My sisters and I were separated as they went to live with their father’s family, while I ended up homeless sleeping in cars and homeless shelters in Washington, D.C.

My mother’s sisters tried to take care of me, but could not. One tried to hit me with a frying pan because she was always stressed out. And the other was an alcoholic who threw my clothes out of her apartment, and then threw my birth certificate and Social Security card in my face stating that she no longer wanted to take care of me.

I then began living with strangers. They were a family of thirteen who lived in a two-bedroom, one bathroom, Section 8 apartment in Southeast, Washington D.C. They would not allow me to get food from the refrigerator. And when I found out that they were getting food stamps and welfare benefits using my name, I was beat up and kicked out of the house. I had no choice but to return back to the homeless shelter.

I always had to watch my back and protect my belongings because different people will sleep in the shelter throughout the night. I wanted to go to high school so bad, but I could not because I needed to feed and clothe myself at such a young age. I was able to enroll into a GED program at age sixteen, while I worked at Starbucks during the daytime and Ruby Tuesday at night. After I earned my GED, I then began to prepare for the SAT exams because I wanted to go to college. I stayed up until three or four in the morning teaching myself algebra, trigonometry, logarithms and geometry by watching YouTube videos and had tutors come up to the shelter to tutor me.

After I was accepted to St. Augustus University in 2009, in North Carolina, I spent four to six hours a day in the library studying in the syllabus and earned a 4.0 GPA my freshman year. [applause] Thank you.

Because I was overlooked in the foster care system, I was never assigned a foster family. I was housed and invited to eat Thanksgiving dinners and spent Christmases with my friends and mentors when the campus closed down for holiday breaks because I had nowhere to go.

While I was in college, I was inducted into the Alpha Kappa Nu National Honor Society and Pi Gamma Nu International Honor Society with Social Sciences. I was on the President’s and Dean’s list since freshman year. And out of all political science majors in the university, I won a department award.

I served three years in the student government association and was elected student body president of the university my junior year. I interned for the Mayor of Washington, D.C., Adrian Fenty. This was a seminal experience that exposed me to politics and enhanced my professionalism in the workplace where he and President Obama performed several initiatives together which I was able to see firsthand.

I served as a guest speaker at the British Embassy and was one out of fifteen homeless students in the United States chosen to attend a scholarship conference on behalf of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. The fifteen of us not only shared our stories in front of over 700 policymakers to decrease youth homelessness in America, but we also built a bond of a family that we never had.

Our efforts helped draft a bill to Congress for a homelessness youth act before we received awards on Capitol Hill from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. On May 5, 2013, I graduated magna cum laude in the top percentile of my graduating class and department. I am now aspiring to become an attorney and later run for political office.

According to my Instagram, over 100,000 people across the world, including from Australia; Oslo, Norway; Singapore and England have urged me to write my autobiography, “Homeless at Age Thirteen to a College Graduate,” that was recently published on Amazon.com in hopes of helping others achieve their goals despite the adversities that life may bring.

Please not only support me by purchasing a copy of my autobiography [laughter], “Homeless at Age Thirteen to a College Graduate”, but also share it with your family and friends to help someone else in need. It is important that we keep funding youth homelessness programs to help others succeed, such as I was able to. Thank you and God bless. [applause]

NCFY: For more information on helping homeless youth become advocates, and to hear our previous podcast featuring Anthony Ross, visit the National Clearinghouse on Families & youth, online at ncfy.acf.hhs.gov

Jessica McCormick: Making it From the Streets to the Classroom

Jessica McCormick ran away from a violent home the summer before her senior year but made her way to college and helps other students do the same.


NCFY: Welcome to NCFY Voices, a podcast series from the Family & Youth Services Bureau.

Jessica McCormick grew up in Michigan, and became homeless in high school. With help from FYSB grantee organization Arbor Circle, she was able to eventually enroll at Aquinas College. In October 2014, Jessica shared this story in front of a televised audience at the National Press Club, as part of our event Ending Youth Homelessness: A Call to Action. Here are her full remarks from the event.

JESSICA MCCORMICK: Good afternoon. My name is Jessie McCormick and I’m here from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan to share some of my experiences. I became homeless right before my senior year of high school. I was removed by local police from my home. And it didn’t match up with the county’s definition of what age was eligible for foster care.

I was assisted by, as was mentioned, Arbor Circle, an organization in Grand Rapids who helped me with case management and ultimately encouraged me to attend Aquinas College where I had been accepted.

This was really crucial. As was mentioned in the study, one of the main things that young people really are looking for our employment and education opportunities. And I truly saw this as one of the avenues that I needed to take in order to rise above the situation and escape the cycle of poverty.

I think it’s also important to note, however, that once you’re in college, there are multiple barriers to staying in college and to staying that course and succeeding within it. And I think those were also mentioned. It goes hand‑in‑hand with employment opportunities, transportation, health care, housing. All of these things are essential if you’re to focus on your school, succeed and ultimately graduate from college and move onto your successful life.

I think that those are largely things that need to be addressed. I know I worked with Change.org, and asked my school particularly to focus on their break policies, fall breaks, Christmas breaks, traditionally where homeless students may not have an opportunity to stay safe, stay sheltered.

I was very fortunate that Change was happy with my campaign and we received just short of 127,000 signatures, which led my school to a greater discussion. It kind of led them to take us more seriously.

This past April, we as a school took action and we’re moving towards solutions. We met with probably six or seven different schools within the Grand Rapids area who are facing similar challenges to get the process started and start a productive discussion of where we go from here, how we can collaborate, what solutions may be.

So I’m very happy to see that progress, not only within my school, but that they’re leading within our community. I think that all of you here today are aware that there’s a hashtag endyouthhomelessness. But I also think that it’s important to move from our awareness and spreading this awareness to our action. Therefore, I wanted to use some of my experiences to maybe give you guys ideas on how you can take action, how you can help, how you can participate in this.

I think we all are aware of high schools in our areas and those high schools have liaisons. And each of you, I mean, anybody can do this – can contact their local liaison to see what they need, how they can help. Maybe they need something as simple as mentors to talk to the students or who to connect them with. Maybe these youth need school supplies. Maybe these youth need shoes that fit. Maybe even that they pick out clothing. All of these basic needs that can be met by anybody. I mean, everybody was in the district of high school.

For those of us here who work for service providers, you can be useful by empowering the youth you work with. Speak to them about what they do, how they can move forward. Encourage them to pursue those employment opportunities, those educational opportunities and help them on those basic steps. The FAFSA, help them with the FAFSA. Help them with all of the different expectations and documents they’re expected to set forth.

And for those of you today who work directly with policy, I know that it was mentioned that there are more than 49,000 youth counted that were homeless on a given night in January. And I would agree with Cyndi that maybe that’s a little estimate. I mean, I’ve heard numbers between 1.5 and 2 million. I think that’s due to the fact that because it’s such an invisible population and because we do blend in, it’s more difficult to track that.

So I think that we could really benefit on a policy level, from a definition and from kind of some safe way to measure in order to move forward. And if we’re really going to end our goal of youth homelessness by 2020, I think that it’s essential to have an aligning definition that will look into that and that will embrace all of the different situations that homelessness youth are in, from living in their cars, to staying with friends, to couch hopping. There are multiple different possibilities and I think it’s very important to address that.

So I hope that today each of you will leave not only with some encouragement and some ideas about the policies and about what can be done, but about how you can take action and how you can be part of the solution.

NCFY: For more information on helping homeless youth achieve an education, and our event Ending Youth Homelessness: A Call to Action, visit the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth, online at ncfy.acf.hhs.org.

Syncere St. Jamyz: From Homelessness to National Spokesman

Syncere St. Jamyz went from a stable home to being homeless in Chicago's Boystown neighborhood as a teenager.


NCFY: Welcome to NCFY Voices, a podcast series from the Family & Youth Services Bureau. 

Syncere St. James grew up comfortably on Chicago's west side, but a death in the family shattered his support system and he ended up homeless. He eventually found his footing at The Night Ministry, a Chicago youth-serving organization that receives FYSB funding.

In October 2014, Syncere brought his story to Washington, D.C., and to national television, when he spoke at the FYSB event "Ending Youth Homelessness: A Call to Action." Here are Syncere's full remarks from the event.

SYNCERE ST. JAMYZ: Good afternoon, everyone. 

Growing up, I honestly didn’t have a really tough time. I was living with my mother and grandmother, along with my sister who really supported me through a lot of things throughout life.

In 2008, my mom lost her battle to cancer which left me in a state of not knowing what to do with life, how to proceed, anything. At that point in time, I decided to become my authentic self and decided to come out to some of my friends and family, which I thought was the easiest process because we had gotten over that hump, which in reality was one of the biggest challenges of my life.

I was always told by friends you should always be who you are no matter what’s going on. Except for they left out the fact unless you’re gay, keep that to yourself. So upon coming out, it was a battle just to figure out resources, just to figure out where I was going to go because my mom was in my main caregiver. That role had kind of reversed as she got sicker. However, I just managed to maintain.

In 2008, I became fully homeless or dependent on the streets to survive. Upon coming out, I found I just started posting things on Facebook, just saying how over things that I was, how I was ready to just give up on life. And a lot of folks that I didn’t even know started sending me inbox messages, telling me to not give up, that there weren't many services, but there was this one neighborhood where evening went in Chicago which was the Lakeview, also known as Boystown area.

Upon getting to the Boystown area, I received support from folks that I never would have imagined, folks who were in similar situations as me, folks who were in the struggle themselves but wanted to make sure that not another person felt unsupported.

For a while, for about two years, I traveled just on the streets, staying in abandoned buildings, staying in parks, districts, friends’ houses, just anywhere where I felt safe enough to go to sleep with maybe about maybe ten of us at a time. And a little bit shortly after that, we found the Night Ministry. They opened a low barrier, youth shelter which allowed folks to come in as they are. Meaning they didn’t try to figure out why you were homeless, what type of person you were

They were there just solely to provide the support that you needed at that time, which blew my mind because I never thought that someone would be willing to give or to help without receiving something in return.

From 2008 to 2012, I tried going to school on and off, but without a safe place to keep books or a safe place to study, and honestly sometimes doing homework in the rain ruined my books. Sometimes stuff was stolen as I would sleep. And it just created one more – it just created another barrier to trying to get an education.

In 2012, I decided that I was just going to continue to keep studying for my GED and continue to try to move forward with my education. At that point in time, one of my many mentors actually told me about a job opening within the Night Ministry that they thought that I was highly qualified for

Of course, I did not believe this whatsoever. But after talking to a couple of friends who encouraged me to continue moving forward with my life, I actually applied and interviewed for the position. I was offered a job at the Night Ministry within the youth shelter that I used to attend myself, which was the greatest like -- it was the most – it was one of the best days of my life to say it simply. I never would have imagined that I would actually be one of the people that would be there for folks to show and guide folks and to show them that there’s not just an end when you become homelessness. That there’s still a future. There’s still things that you can move forward to.

Since then I have been back and forth from small cities, big cities, throughout this country just letting folks now that the basic support that folks never even think of or the privileges that we all hold as far as food, shelter, just a person to talk to, those are the things that are deeply needed in order to end this epidemic to say the least. 

Right now I’m currently – I have just been promoted to a full-time position at the Night Ministry within the youth central program which allows me to be there more in a – just to talk to folks, see what the needs are, the current needs of folks, because the needs of four years ago definitely are not the needs now.

People believe that like things stay the same and that we always need to just give out the same resources and the same types of support. When people evolve rapidly, especially now, as I heard folks say earlier, young folks are coming out as early as maybe twelve, thirteen, if not younger. Therefore, we need to be ready in order to support those young folks who do come out.

Also, I have been currently working – well, currently talking to a lot of folks about how to realize my dream of opening a 24 hour youth resource center. The 24 hour youth resource center would basically be a combination of a drop-in center, a youth center and an educational center. That way young folks can find everything that they need in one place. Although, we do understand that everyone wouldn’t be able to stay or get the resource, it would be open to maximize the amount of folks that we can serve at that moment. [applause] 

NCFY: To learn more about ending youth homelessness, and to watch a video of the October event, visit the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth, online at ncfy.acf.hhs.gov.


The History

Infographic for 40 years of RHYA Progress Timeline

40 Years of Progress: A Timeline

Sept. 7 1974: President Gerald Ford signs Runaway Youth Act, establishing network of emergency shelters for teens.

1977: Runaway Youth Act becomes Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.

1994: Street Outreach Program put in place to serve homeless youth at risk of sexual exploitation.

2002: Estimated 1.6 million youth ran away or were thrown out in 1999, Department of Justice report says.

2003: Maternity Group Homes for pregnant and parenting homeless youth added to Transitional Living Program.

2014: Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs promote federal plan to better serve human trafficking victims.

2015: FYSB funds 597 grantees across the country toprovide basic center, street outreach andtransitional living services.

2013: Point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness in United States finds 46,924 youth homeless and on their own.

2010: Federal government puts forth plan to end youth homelessness by 2020.

The Solution

Since 1974 the Family & Youth Services Bureau has, through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, provided funding to programs tailored to the needs of homeless and unstably housed teens and young adults.

Street outreach, emergency shelter and transitional living programs across the country provide young people with the tools and support they need to leave homelessness behind forever.

Top Four Things Runaway and Homeless Youth Need

Take Action


FYSB and its federal partners are working to end youth homelessness by 2020. Here’s how you can join us:

The National Runaway Safeline Logo

Call the National Runaway Safeline

Do you have questions or need resources for yourself or a homeless family member or friend?
The National Runaway Safeline can help. Call 1-800-RUNAWAY.

Share the message

Join the conversation and spread the word on social media, encouraging your community to #EndYouthHomelessness. Here are some sample messages to get you started:

Photograph of Bill Bentley holding a RHYA logo sign

Learn what youth homelessness is – and isn’t – to help #EndYouthHomelessness http://youthhomelessness.acf.hhs.gov

DYK there's a 24/7 hotline for runaway & #homelessyouth? Learn more in this new @FYSBgov PSA http://bit.ly/20epuYi

Learn more about FYSB grantees working to #EndYouthHomelessness: http://1.usa.gov/1DhIaKb

Support a local program

Almost 600 FYSB-supported programs across the country—and many others that don’t get federal funding—provide vital services to homeless youth. Find a program in your community and ask how you can help.

Image of the Grantees of the Family and Youth Services Bureau United States map

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for updates from the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth to keep up with FYSB’s work to end youth homelessness.