How Cities Can Improve Treatment of Homelessness Among Young People

Stable housing provides youth and young adults with a crucial foundation for developing into adulthood. Without stable housing, young people are much more likely to experience a host of negative and traumatic experiences, including arrest and detention in the justice system.

City leaders, along with their partners in law enforcement and service providers in the community, can improve the opportunities for local youth to develop successfully by reducing the intersections of homelessness and the justice system.

Youth who experience homelessness — estimated to include 1 in 10 young adults, and 1 in 30 teens — are much more likely than their stably housed peers to fall into the justice system and other negative and traumatic experiences. Involvement in the juvenile justice system may also increase a young person’s risk of homelessness in the future due to juvenile records, education disruption, and family discord.


New resources provide principles and recommendations for city leaders and law enforcement seeking to reduce the intersection between homelessness and the juvenile justice system for youth and young adults. Complimentary resources support schools and juvenile justice collaborative groups to do the same. NLC and the National Network for Youth supported the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and a vast advisory team of experts to complete these briefs and the complementary Principles for Change on Addressing the Intersections of Juvenile Justice Involvement and Youth Homelessness.

One such principle for local leaders is to “ensure that the laws and policies in your jurisdiction do not lead youth experiencing homelessness to be cited, arrested, or charged with survival acts or ‘quality of life’ offenses.” A key recommendation for cities hoping to fulfill this principle is to “authorize and encourage state and local law enforcement to use tools other than arrest, such as diversion to a juvenile assessment and service center, when they encounter young people on the streets or otherwise experiencing homelessness.”

NLC’s resources on juvenile justice reform provide more guidance and support for city leaders on juvenile assessment and service centers.

Notably, these resources come as cities continue to face a growing affordable housing crisis. While the cost of housing is the primary obstacle for most people experiencing homelessness, the inability to access housing due to past involvement with the justice system is also a significant problem.

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Many of the principles and recommendations outlined in these new resources can also benefit other people experiencing homelessness, including veterans and older adults. As communities look to extend the historic progress made on veteran homelessness, local leaders can take specific actions, such as those discussed in these resources, to make system-wide improvements for all people at the intersection of homelessness and the justice system.

Laura_Furr_125x150About the author: Laura E. Furr is the program manager for justice reform and youth engagement in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr or reach her at