Runaways and Homeless Youth

“I ran away. How did you know? That I wasn’t going home?”


Though what Tino did for Bernadette was impeccably brave and selfless, if she had not eventually offered him a place to stay his story could have ended very differently.  The fact is, the United States has a homeless and runaway youth problem. The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that on about any given night there are around 1.3 million homeless youths living on the streets, in an abandoned building, with friends or even strangers. With this in mind, it makes sense that homeless young people are at higher risk for physical abuse, substance abuse, sexual exploitation and death (with an estimated 5,000 deaths as a result of illness, assault or suicide).

The numbers show one in seven youths will run away between the ages 10 and 18, and adolescents between 12 and 17 will be at more risk for homelessness than adults. Statistics also show that:

  • 75 percent of runaways are female
  • Between 6 and 22 percent of homeless girls are pregnant
  • 20 to 40 percent of homeless adolescents identify as LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender,  Queer/Questioning and others)
  • 75 percent of homeless or runaway youth have or will dropped out of school
  • 46 percent of runaways were physically abused
  • 38 percent were emotionally abused
  • 17 percent were sexually assaulted by a family or household member

Children who become homeless runaways are then put at risk for: unprotected sex, anxiety, depression, suicide, exchanging sex for food, and so on. Luckily, states are recognizing this problem and that the majority of these youths not only need help but a safer living situation. The country, therefore, has federal policies in regard to homeless youth including: The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, The Chaffee Foster Care Independence Program, and The Fostering Connections Act of 2008. In addition, certain states have separate policies on top of these, but New Jersey is not one of them. These acts have resulted in measures like The National Runaway Safeline (NRS) at 1-800-RUNWAY, which was put in place in order to help those who were thinking of running away or already have ran away.



"Home - National Runaway Safeline | National Runaway Safeline."

"The Truth About Runaway Teens." Polly Klaas Foundation.