The vast majority of homeless youth are age 13 or older, although a few studies have identified small numbers of youth who are homeless on their own as young as 9 years old (Clark & Robertson, 1996; Robertson, 1991). Although at least one national survey of youth found that males were significantly more likely than females to report recent homelessness (Ringwalt et al. 1998),the distribution of males and females among homeless youth seems to vary depending on the source and age of the sample. Shelter samples tend to include either equal numbers of males and females or more females (e.g., Heinze, Toro, & Urberg, 2004). Samples of street youth or older homeless youth are disproportionately male (e.g., Cauce et al., 2000). There is also some evidence that during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood the risk of becoming homeless declines for females but rises for males (Boesky, Toro, & Bukowski, 1997).
There have been contradictory findings with respect to race/ethnicity. Neither Ringwalt et al. (1998) nor Hammer et al. (2002) found racial or ethnic differences in rates of homelessness among the youth they studied, and at least some research suggests that homeless youth tend to reflect the racial and ethnic make-up of the surrounding area. However, other studies indicate that racial and ethnic minority youth are over-represented (Cauce et al., 1994; McCaskill, Toro, & Wolfe, 1998; Owen et al., 1998).
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) youth comprise 6 percent of the homeless youth population according to the National Network of Runaway and Youth Services. However, other prevalence estimates range from 11 to 35 percent (Kruks, 1991; Tenner et al., 1998; Whitbeck et al., 2004). Compared to heterosexual homeless youth, GLBT homeless youth leave home more frequently and are exposed to greater victimization while on the streets (Cochran et al., 2002). In addition, these youth may experience more physical and sexual abuse from caretakers (Whitbeck et al., 2004). GLBT youth may be at particular risk for homelessness due to conflict with their family regarding their sexual orientation (Milburn, Ayala, Rice, Batterham, & Rotheram-Borus, 2006; Remafedi, 1987).
A significant percentage of homeless youth are pregnant or parenting. Greene and Ringwalt (1998) found that 48 percent of street youth and 33 percent of shelter youth had ever been pregnant or impregnated someone, compared to 10 percent of a nationally representative sample of housed youth. Research also suggests that approximately 10 percent of both street and shelter female youth are currently pregnant (Greene & Ringwalt, 1998; Solorio et al., 2006). The high rates of pregnancy in this population may reflect the fact that many homeless youth engage in risky behaviors, including sex at an early age, survival sex, and inconsistent use of birth control.