Youth consistently identify conflict with their parents as the primary reason for their homelessness (Whitbeck et al., 2002; Robertson & Toro, 1999), and they tend to report more family conflict than their peers who are housed (Toro & Goldstein, 2000; Wolfe, Toro, & McCaskill, 1999). These conflictst end to reflect longstanding patterns rather than problems that arise just before youth leave home (Smollar, 1999). Conflicts related to step-parent relationships, sexual activity, pregnancy, sexual orientation, school problems, and alcohol or drug use seem to be the most common (Owen et al., 1998; Robertson & Toro, 1999; Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999).
In addition to family conflict, many homeless youth have experienced child abuse and/or neglect (Boesky, Toro, & Wright, 1995; Molnar et al., 1998; Powers, Eckenrode, & Jacklitsh, 1990; Robertson, 1989; Rotherman-Boruset al., 1996; Rothman & David, 1985; Ryan et al., 2000; Tyler et al.,2001; Unger et al., 1998; Yates et al., 1988). In fact, homeless youth often cite physical or sexual abuse as their reason for leaving home (Robertson, 1989). Although the percentage of homeless youth who report a history of maltreatment varies widely across studies, research using comparison groups has found that homeless youth are more likely to have been abused and/or neglected than their peers who are housed (Wolfe, Toro, & McCaskill,1999). This may also explain why homeless youth are more likely to have been verbally and physically aggressive toward their parents compared to their housed peers (Toro & Goldstein, 2000). That is, their aggression may be in response to parental aggression directed at them (Haber & Toro, 2003).