Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Characteristics of Help-Seeking Street Youth and Non-Street Youth. Demographic Characteristics of Street Youth


In the United States, statistics for street youth who are runaways and throwaways are estimated by the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART), conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the U.S. Department of Justice (Flores, 2002). The most recent of these studies, NISMART-2, was published in 2002, based on data collected in 1999 (Hammer, Finkelhor, & Sedlak, 2002). NISMART-2 researchers estimated that 1,682,900 youth nationwide were missing due to a runaway or throwaway episode, with 50 percent being male, 50 percent being female, and with the majority of these youth (68 percent) being 15 to 17 years of age (Hammer, Finkelhor, & Sedlak, 2002).

Two other large-scale research studies of street youth are the Midwest Homeless and Runaway Adolescent Project (MHRAP), which included 602 individuals in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas (Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999a), and the Seattle Homeless Adolescent Research Project (SHARP), which included 372 individuals (Whitbeck et al., 2001). MHRAP and SHARP participants ranged from 12 to 22 years of age. In each of these studies, the number of male and female participants was approximately equal (Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999a; Whitbeck et al., 2001). The majority of the participants in both studies were of European-American, with African-Americans the next largest participant group (Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999a; Whitbeck et al., 2001). Most of the MHRAP participants had run away from a metropolitan area or a suburb of a metropolitan area, and most participants had spent most of their time in the week prior to the interview at a shelter, with friends, or with their parents or another relative (Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999a). The majority of the SHARP participants had spent at least part of the previous week in a shelter or on the streets (Whitbeck et al., 2001).

Both the MHRAP and SHARP studies included youth currently living on the street, in shelters or agencies, or with friends or relatives (Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999a; Whitbeck et al., 2001). Statistics and demographic information on runaways that do derive from sampling these types of locations may not be fully representative of the street youth population. Additionally, depending on the sample used, gender composition of studies of street youth may vary, with males generally overrepresented in street samples, and females generally overrepresented in shelter samples (Yoder, Whitbeck, & Hoyt, 2001).

A brief summary of pertinent demographic data from these large-scale studies is found in Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1
Demographic Data from Large-Scale Studies of Street Youth
Sample site Mean Age
European American
African American
15 - 17 50 50 57 15 Hammer et al., 2002
Midwestern U.S.
16.24 40 60 61 ~25 Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999(a)
Seattle, WA
17.15 55 45 53 18 Whitbeck et al., 2001
a Reflects runaway and throwaway youth sample combined.

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