Young woman standing next to child with arm around their shoulder

Youth on their Own

Age 24 and younger on their own


Wilder Research analyzed a subset of the overall population of people experiencing homelessness in 2018: youth, age 24 and younger, on their own.


An estimated 13,300 Minnesota youth on their own experience homelessness over the course of a year.

This number includes an estimated 5,800 minors age 17 and younger on their own, and 7,500 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. From night to night, they may need to find a new place to stay (known as couch hopping), go to shelters, or sleep in their cars or on public transportation.

Key Findings about youth experiencing homelessness from the 2018 study

On October 25, 2018, 1,484 youth on their own were counted as part of the Minnesota Homeless Study. Youth on their own make up 15% of the total homeless population counted.

Children and unaccompanied youth age 24 and younger make up nearly half of those experiencing homelessness.

  • Between 2015 and 2018, there was a 1% increase in the number of homeless youth on their own without their parents. 
  • While their numbers remained steady, children and youth are the most disproportionally affected by homelessness relative to their population in Minnesota.
This stacked bar chart shows homelessness in Minnesota by age group: 32% are children age 17 or younger with parents, 15% are unaccompanied youth age 24 and younger, 43% are adults age 25-54, and 10% are older adults 55 and older.

The number of youth who were outside or temporarily doubled up increased.

  • Youth on their own (age 24 and younger) staying outside of a formal shelter setting increased by 11% from 2015 to 2018. We saw considerable increases in the number of people not in a formal shelter (i.e., outside or temporarily doubled up) across age groups. Based on our research, as well as anecdotal evidence from stakeholders, we know that people experiencing homelessness are often forced to find different living arrangements from night to night.
  • 22% of youth (age 24 and younger) spent more than a week outside and 38% spent more than a week doubled up in the month of the study. Study results show that capacity, in both shelter and subsidized housing availability, does not meet the need.

African Americans, American Indians, and youth who identify as LGBTQ are particularly over-represented among the homeless population.

Generational impacts of discriminatory housing policies and other systemic inequities have contributed to the overrepresentation of people of color in the homeless population. Relative to proportions statewide, people identifying as African American or American Indian are notably overrepresented in the homeless population. This disproportionality extends to homeless youth age 24 and younger, where 35% of those interviewed identified as African American (compared to 9% of the Minnesota population) and 15% identified as American Indian (compared to 1% of the Minnesota population).

Discrimination is also associated with the overrepresentation of those who identify as LGBTQ in the homeless population. Twenty-three percent of youth (age 24 and younger) experiencing homelessness identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ).

Youth who are homeless have often had other trauma in childhood.

  • 84% of youth had experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (ACEs), including trauma and abuse. On average, youth had experienced 3.2 ACEs, putting them at greater risk of health issues as adults.
  • In 2018, the most common adverse childhood experiences among homeless youth were having lived with someone who abused substances (61%), witnessing the abuse of another family member (60%), and had a parent with mental health problems (59%).
Adverse childhood experiences (before age 18) among homeless youth. This bar chart shows the percentage of homeless youth who experienced any of several ACEs before age 18. 84% of youth experienced at least one adverse childhood experience. 59% experienced three or more.

The majority of homeless youth have chronic mental or physical health conditions.

7 out of 10 youth experienced a chronic mental or physical health condition, or substance abuse disorder. Although youth rates of physical health and substance use disorder are lower than the adult population, youth and adults have similar rates of serious mental health conditions.


Youth 24 and younger  2009 2012 2015 2018
At least one chronic health condition 61% 68% 68% 71%
Serious mental illness (except anxiety or panic disorder) 46% 53% 54% 60%a
Physical health conditions 31% 37% 36% 33%b
Substance use disorder 14% 16% 13% 16%

a For consistency in the trend, “anxiety or panic disorder” (first asked in 2015) is omitted from “serious mental illness” in this table. When included, 64% of youth experiencing homelessness report having a “serious mental illness.” bFor consistency in the trend, “cancer” and “chronic pain” (first asked in 2018) are omitted from “physical health conditions” in this table. When included, 39% of youth experiencing homelessness report having a “physical health condition.”

Most youth have a trusted adult, but most don’t think they will live with their family again.

  • 8 in 10 youth on their own (age 20 and younger) said they currently have an adult in their life that they trust and can talk to about problems.
  • Nearly 2 out of 3 youth on their own (20 and younger) do not think they will live with their family again. This was true for a lower percentage of youth under 18 (52%) than youth age 18-20 (81%).

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

  • When asked about their histories, many homeless adults have experienced repeated homelessness starting from an early age. More than half (52%) of adults surveyed first became homeless by the time they were age 24, and over one-third (36%) first became homeless at or before age 18.
  • 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.

Previous Reports on Youth Homelessness