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

09/01/2007

The majority of callers to NRS were female and, on average, callers were in their mid-teens. Demographic and personal characteristics of the total sample of youth callers to NRS are found in Exhibits 3

6.[3] A summary table of key demographic data is provided in Exhibit 7.

Exhibit 3
Demographic Characteristics of Youth Callers to the National Runaway Switchboard, 20002005.
Characteristic n (Percent)
Status of total samplea
Runaway 11299 (37.7%)
Throwaway 1598 (5.3%)
Homeless 1968 (6.6%)
Contemplating running away 5136 (17.1%)
Youth in general crisis 9983 (33.3%)
Gender of total sampleb
Male 9044 (29.9%)
Female 21199 (70.1%)
Transgender* 3 (Non-significant percentage of sample)
Gender by status subgroupc
Runaway
   Male 3642 (32.2%)
   Female 7652 (67.8%)
   Transgender* 1 (Non-significant percentage of sample)
Throwaway
   Male 517 (32.4%)
   Female 1080 (67.6%)
Homeless
   Male 906 (46.1%)
   Female 1058 (53.9%)
Contemplating running away
   Male 1075 (20.9%)
   Female 4059 (79.1%)
Youth in general crisis
   Male 2834 (28.4%)
   Female 7142 (71.6%)
   Transgender* 2 (Non-significant percentage of sample)
  Mean (SD) Range
Age of total sample (years)d 16.14 (1.81) 12 21
Age by status subgroup (years)e
Runaway 15.99 (1.46) 12 21
Throwaway 16.55 (1.42) 12 21
Homeless 18.23 (1.48) 12 21
Contemplating running away 15.27 (1.61) 12 21
Youth in general crisis 16.26 (1.99) 12 21
a  Based on 29,984 valid responses.
b  Based on 30,243 valid responses.
c  Based on 29,968 valid responses.
d  Based on 29,960 valid responses.
e  Based on 29,713 valid responses.
* Information on transgender as a gender category was recorded only for calls received January 2005 or later.

NRS services are available to any youth in crisis, whether or not they have left home. Not surprisingly, given that NRSs name and marketing materials imply that runaway youth are the primary target group, most callers were either runaways (38 percent) or were considering running away (17 percent); at the same time, a substantial proportion of callers were youth in general crisis (33 percent; see Exhibit 3). Smaller numbers of callers identified themselves as throwaways (5 percent) or homeless (7 percent). On average, callers were 16.1 years old. Most callers were female (70 percent), with males making up just under 30 percent. A small number of callers (less than 1 percent) identified as transgender.[4]  These findings are consistent with prior research, which suggests that females are generally overrepresented in samples of youth that are drawn from service agencies (Yoder, Whitbeck & Hoyt, 2001).

Callers classified as street youth included those who identified themselves as runaways, homeless youth, or throwaways. Like the sample overall, street youth callers in general tended to be female (66 percent) and in their mid-teens (16.3 years). Among street youth, those identifying themselves as homeless were older on average (18.2 years) while runaway youth were younger (16.0 years). It is possible that, in comparison to street youth approaching the age of majority, younger street youth are more inclined to view themselves as being able to return to their family homes, or as having parents or guardians responsible for their well-being. Another potential explanation is that older street youth may have been homeless for an extended period of time, and are therefore more likely to conceptualize themselves as being without any home at all, rather than simply being away from home.

Youth who were classified as non-street youth included those who were contemplating running away and those who called in with a general crisis issue unrelated to running away. The non-street youth were even more likely than street youth to be female (74 percent) and were slightly younger than the street youth (15.9 years, on average).

Callers contacted NRS from a variety of locations including friends or relatives homes, police stations, school, or bus stations, as shown in Exhibit 4. Most street youth (38 percent) were at a friends home when they contacted NRS. About 10 percent of callers were at a shelter and a similar percent of callers were calling from a payphone. In November 2005, three new categories of general location were added to the NRS call log: the home of a recent acquaintance, a Greyhound station, and a location that the youth could not identify (unknown to caller). Because these locations were added to the call log relatively close to the end of the sampling period, there are few responses in these categories. Future research on call log data may reflect higher rates of calls made to NRS from these locations. Additional analyses of street youth caller location indicated that the states or territories from which the most calls were received were California (17 percent) and Texas (10 percent). It is likely that these statistics reflect the high populations of California and Texas relative to other states and territories (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). 

Exhibit 4
Location of Street Youth Callers to the National Runaway Switchboard, 20002005.
General location of street youth callers during calla
Location n (Percent) Location n (Percent)
Detention/police 897 (6.8%) School 62 (0.5%)
Friend 5011 (37.9%) Shelter 1400 (10.6%)
Recent acquaintance* 8 (0.1%) Street/payphone 1448 (10.9%)
Home 201 (1.5%) Greyhound station* 15 (0.1%)
Other 574 (4.3%) Unknown to hotline staff 2704 (20.4%)
Pimp/dealer 43 (0.3%) Unknown to caller* 11 (0.1%)
Relative 838 (6.3%) Work 26 (0.2%)
a Based on 13,238 valid responses.
* These locations recorded only for calls received November 2005 and later.

Information pertaining to the extent of impact of current and past homelessness on street youth callers, in terms of time, distance, and prior experience as a street youth, is found in Exhibits 5 and 6. Most street youth callers had been away from home for one day (22 percent), and more than half of the street youth callers (58 percent) had been away from home for one week or less. The majority of callers (57 percent) had not crossed state or territory borders at time of the call. Among those who had crossed borders, most had left California (10 percent) and Texas (7 percent).

Exhibit 5
Extent of Impact of Current Homelessness on the Street Youth Subgroup of Callers
to the National Runaway Switchboard, in Terms of Time and Geographical Distance.
  Subgroup Status
Total Sample Runaway Throwaway Homeless
Time a n (Percent) n (Percent) n (Percent) n (Percent)
1 day 3169 (22.4%) 2128 (19.6%) 638 (42.6%) 403 (22.6%)
2 days 1334 (9.4%) 1000 (9.2%) 163 (10.9%) 171 (9.6%)
3 days 942 (6.7%) 744 (6.9%) 94 (6.3%) 104 (5.8%)
4 days 584 (4.1%) 506 (4.7%) 34 (2.3%) 44 (2.5%)
5 days 513 (3.6%) 420 (3.9%) 37 (2.5%) 56 (3.1%)
6 days 180 (1.3%) 168 (1.5%) 5 (0.3%) 7 (0.4%)
1 week 1535 (10.9%) 1273 (11.7%) 119 (7.9%) 143 (8.0%)
2 weeks 1153 (8.2%) 937 (8.6%) 88 (5.9%) 128 (7.2%)
3 weeks 676 (4.8%) 558 (5.1%) 40 (2.7%) 78 (4.4%)
1 month 1152 (8.2%) 924 (8.5%) 66 (4.4%) 162 (9.1%)
2 months 850 (6.0%) 689 (6.4%) 58 (3.9%) 103 (5.8%)
3 months 519 (3.7%) 398 (3.7%) 32 (2.1%) 89 (5.0%)
4 months 256 (1.8%) 209 (1.9%) 17 (1.1%) 30 (1.7%)
5 months 141 (1.0%) 118 (1.1%) 13 (0.9%) 10 (0.6%)
6 months 264 (1.9%) 195 (1.8%) 25 (1.7%) 44 (2.5%)
7 months 85 (0.6%) 68 (0.6%) 6 (0.4%) 11 (0.6%)
8 months 69 (0.5%) 59 (0.5%) 1 (0.1%) 9 (0.5%)
9 months 42 (0.3%) 31 (0.3%) 4 (0.3%) 7 (0.4%)
10 months 27 (0.2%) 25 (0.2%) 2 (0.1%) 0 (0.0%)
11 months 7 (Non-significant) 7 (0.1%) 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%)
1 year or more 624 (4.4%) 384 (3.5%) 56 (3.7%) 184 (10.3%)
 
  n (Percent)  
Had the youth crossed state or territory lines to get to his or her current location? b
   Yes 5606 (43.1%)
   No 7408 (56.9%)

a Based on 14,122 total valid responses.
b Based on 13,014 total valid responses.

 

Exhibit 6
Past Experience of Homelessness by Street Youth Callers
  n (Percent)   Mean (SD) Range
Had the youth ever run away from home before?a
Yes 3786 (29.0%) If yes, how many times had youth run away before?b 4.31 10.57 199
No 7675 (58.9%)  
Unknown to hotline staff 1576 (12.1%)
Had the youth ever been homeless before?c
Yes 761 (8.0%) If yes, how many times had youth been homeless before?d 2.96 8.57 199
No 6936 (72.9%)  
Unknown to hotline staff 1813 (19.1%)
a  Based on 13,037 total valid responses.
b  Based on 3,692 valid responses.
c  Based on 9,510 valid responses.
d  Based on 697 valid responses.

The majority of street youth callers (59 percent) had not run away prior to contacting NRS for assistance. Among the callers who had previously run away, the average number of prior runaway episodes was approximately 4. Similarly, the majority of callers (73 percent) had not been homeless prior to calling NRS. Among callers who had previously been homeless, the mean number of prior episodes of homelessness was approximately 3.[5]

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