The McKinney-Vento Act defines homelessness as lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. The RYS assessed housing stability with a single question, “During the past 30 days, where did you usually sleep at night?” Respondents who answered that that usually slept “In a home that I own or rent” or “In my parent’s or guardian’s home” were considered to be in stable housing, and those who gave any other response were considered to be in unstable housing. More than one-third (35.5%) of RYS respondents lived in unstable housing. Youth ages 19-26 were more likely to be in unstable housing than ages 14-18; nearly half the surveyed population (47.1%). In the younger age group (14-18 years), 24.0% were in unstable housing, a rate 3-4 times that of public high school students of a similar age group. According to the NM Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey, 6.0% of high school students were in unstable housing in 2015, and 7.4% in 2017.
During the past 30 days, where did you usually sleep at night?
In most cases , only a minority of youth in unstable housing reported that they actually got help with housing. Among 14-18-year-olds, almost half (49.1%) indicated that they needed help with housing, but less than one-third (29.1%) got the help they needed. Almost two-thirds of 19-26-year-olds reported they could have used help with housing, but less than a quarter (23.5%) got the help they needed.
The RYS also indicated that housing instability may interfere with efforts among young people to reconnect to school and/or work. Youth in unstable housing had significantly more challenges with school compared to those who were in stable housing due to:
- Not having required personal documents (reported by 8.9% of those in unstable housing, vs. 2.1% of those in stable housing)
- Not having transportation (27.4% vs. 13.4%)
- Being unable to afford school (22.3% vs. 11.0%)
- Needing to work instead of go to school (28.0% vs. 17.0%)
- Having other family responsibilities (24.8% vs. 18.7%)
Areas where youth in unstable housing had significantly more challenges with jobs compared to those who were in stable housing included:
- Did not have required personal documents (10.0% vs. 4.1%)
- Did not have transportation (28.8% vs. 14.4%)
- Had to take care of children (15.6% vs. 8.6%)
- Had other family responsibilities (20.6% vs. 13.0%)
- Had poor physical or emotional health (16.3% vs. 5.8%)
- Could not pass drug test (16.3% vs. 5.8%)
- Had a criminal record (9.4% vs. 4.1%)
Youth in unstable housing, of all ages, were at higher risk for factors associated with behavioral health, including substance use, suicide attempts, and sexual violence victimization.
- Did not have transportation (13.8% vs. 4.8%)
- Could not afford services (13.8% vs. 5.5%)
- Did not have health insurance (10.7% vs. 3.1%)
- Bad past experiences (22.6% vs. 10.9%)
- Hours services were available (20.1% vs. 5.1%)
- Location of services (18.2% vs. 8.9%)
- Services not available (19.5% vs. 9.6%)
Why does this matter?
Approximately 1 in 10 young adults ages 18-25 experience some form of homelessness each year, and 1 in 30 adolescents ages 13-17 experience homelessness annually (Voices of Youth Count, University of Chicago). Young people who are not working or in school are already at heightened risk of homelessness. They are already vulnerable to exploitation, lack of services, substance use and other behavioral health risks, and without fixed, regular, and adequate housing, they can only see their risks multiply. Opportunity youth present have great potential for leading healthy and productive lives, but housing instability and it’s associated risks represent missed opportunities to help this population in their transition to productive adulthood.
The data collected indicates that youth are looking for these services but are unable to access them. If we as providers listen to their voices, we can work together to provide greater access to housing, behavioral health services, education supports, and job training and support.
See the Full Data Brief on Housing Instability