Teen Depression, Drugs, and Desperation: Consequences of Teen Homelessness

It is common to think of children and adolescents as having a home, but many don’t. In fact, the problem of teen homelessness is growing and too frequently it is a social issue that does not get the attention it deserves.

Teen Homelessness

According to the National Runaway Switchboard, on any given night there are approximately 1.3 million homeless youth living on the streets, sleeping in abandoned buildings, with friends or with strangers. The problem here is that this is not just that they are living in these foreign places, without supervision or family, but that they are vulnerable to risky situations.

For instance, homeless youth are at a higher risk for physical and sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, mental illnesses, drug and alcohol addiction, crime, and even death. It is estimated that 5,000 unaccompanied youth die each year as a result of assault, illness, or suicide.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services defines homeless youth as minors who have spent at least one night either in a shelter or on the streets without adult supervision. The consequences of teen homelessness include depression and other forms of mental illness, drug use, and often out of desperation, theft and other crime.

Research shows that:

  • One in seven teens between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away
  • Teens ages 12 to 17 are more at risk of homelessness than adults
  • 75 percent of runaways are female
  • The number of pregnant homeless females is approximately between 6 and 22 percent
  • Between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning (GLBTQ)
  • 46 percent of runaway and homeless youth reported being physically abused. 38 percent reported being emotionally abused, and 17 percent reported being forced into unwanted sexual activity by a family or household member
  • 75 percent percent of homeless or runaway youth have dropped out or will drop out of school


Furthermore, the National Coalition for the Homeless indicates that homeless adolescents suffer from extreme forms of anxiety and depression, along with low self-esteem. In fact, they found that the rates of major teen depression, conduct disorder, and PTSD to be three times higher in homeless teen than other adolescents. Furthermore, homeless teens are prone to suicide attempts and self-harming behavior, such as cutting their wrists, burning the skin, and self-tattooing. According to the National Network for Youth, suicide is the leading cause of death among homeless adolescents. Sadly, although many of these teens are suffering from teen depression and other forms of mental illness, very few have access to mental health services like teen depression treatment.

Substance Abuse

Another consequence to being homeless is the presence of drugs. Because of frequent emotional challenges, particularly if a mental illness is present, drugs become an attractive choice as a way to self-medicate and ease the painful stress of life’s instability. Research has shown that the use of drugs and alcohol increases among teens whose living situations become more and more stressful and unstable. The National Network for Youth reports that 30% to 40% of un-parented teens will have alcohol problems in their lifetime. While 40% to 50% of un-parented teens will have problems with other drugs. Homeless youth are more likely to use marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

Lastly, out of desperation to survive, homeless teens will commit crime such as theft, assault, and trespassing. One fifth of homeless adolescents have admitted to stealing. Many have needed to break into abandoned buildings in order to find a place to sleep and/or live temporarily. Along these lines, some male and female teens will also resort to prostitution in order to survive. Within the homeless community, this is known as survival sex, where intercourse is exchanged for money, shelter, and/or food.


The consequences of homeless among children and young adults are severe. Attention to this social matter is not only important; it speaks to the illness of society as a whole.


“Consequences of Youth Homelessness.” National Network for Youth. National Network for Youth, Web. 07 Mar. 2014.

“Homeless and Runaway Youth.” National Council of State Legislators, 1 Oct. 2013. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.

“What Is the Official Definition of Homelessness?” National Health Care for the Homeless Council. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014.