Fast Facts

In the U.S., about 1 in 10 young adults and 1 in 30 minors under age 18 experience homelessness without a parent or caregiver over the course of a year. Homelessness is higher among some groups, such as youth of color and transgender youth.

Although the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services provide grants to local organizations to operate programs, like shelters or transitional living programs, many youth who are homeless may not be receiving services they may be eligible for.

We recommended that HUD and HHS provide more guidance to local programs on how to help youth who are homeless.

teenager sitting on sidewalk with head in hands

Skip to Highlights
Highlights

What GAO Found

The Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have taken steps to coordinate their programs that serve youth experiencing homelessness. These programs include HUD's Continuum of Care program, which funds housing and homelessness services for people of all ages in nearly all communities across the country, and HHS's Runaway and Homeless Youth program, which funds emergency shelters, transitional housing, and supportive services for youth in a few hundred communities. For example, HHS was involved in the development of HUD's Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, which provides grants to several dozen communities to address youth homelessness. In addition, the agencies integrated data collection for the Runaway and Homeless Youth program into local data systems operated under the Continuum of Care program to help program providers better coordinate client services at the local level.

GAO's review of documents and interviews with local program providers, agency officials, researchers, and advocates identified several challenges in serving youth experiencing homelessness, including both young adults and minors (those under 18). For example:

Under the Continuum of Care program, communities must establish a process, known as coordinated entry, for prioritizing who receives limited housing resources. Many providers of homelessness services reported that their community's process tends to prioritize young adults lower than older adults. This is partly because these processes, following HUD guidance, give higher priority to those who have been homeless longer and who have documented disabilities. HUD has provided some information to communities on serving youth through coordinated entry, but this information largely has not addressed how to ensure that young adults are not consistently prioritized below other groups for housing.

Most providers GAO interviewed reported that minors experiencing homelessness unaccompanied (without a parent or caregiver) do not participate in the coordinated entry process, with several noting there are limited housing options that can serve minors. Some providers and other stakeholders discussed challenges coordinating between the homelessness and child welfare systems to serve this group. However, HUD and HHS have provided limited information about or examples of how providers could coordinate to better serve unaccompanied minors.

Although HUD and HHS have taken some steps to coordinate the Continuum of Care and Runaway and Homeless Youth programs, providers of these programs reported challenges in coordination and communication, including a lack of understanding of one another's programs and a need for more strategic planning on services for youth.

HUD and HHS have acknowledged a need for additional information related to serving youth. Additional support from HUD and HHS in the areas identified above could help to improve coordination and the delivery of services to both young adults and minors at the local level.

Why GAO Did This Study

Youth homelessness is a widespread problem, with one recent study estimating that one in 10 young adults experience some form of homelessness over the course of a year—such as living on the streets or in a shelter or temporarily staying with others. GAO was asked to study youth homelessness. This report examines, among other things, HUD's and HHS's coordination to address youth homelessness and challenges communities face in serving youth through HUD and HHS programs.

GAO analyzed federal agency documents related to homelessness efforts; conducted structured interviews with a nongeneralizable sample of 24 local homelessness providers, selected to reflect communities of different sizes and with different types of programs for youth; and interviewed other local program staff, youth homelessness researchers and advocates, and federal officials.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

GAO makes 10 recommendations to improve services for youth experiencing homelessness, including that HUD work with HHS to provide additional information or examples to local communities in the following areas: serving young adults through coordinated entry processes, coordinating to serve unaccompanied minors, and coordinating their programs. HUD generally agreed with four recommendations. HUD neither agreed nor disagreed with two recommendations, but described intended plans to help address these areas. HHS agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, in coordination with HHS's Family and Youth Services Bureau, should develop additional information for homelessness providers on how the coordinated entry process can more effectively serve youth. This information should address (1) how to help ensure that youth are not consistently prioritized below older adults for housing and services in coordinated entry systems and (2) how CoCs can work with RHY providers and other stakeholders to serve youth who are not prioritized for housing or are not eligible for housing under CoC program rules. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs should provide additional information to CoCs to clarify how they could meet the standards outlined in regulation for serving people in Category 3 of HUD's definition of homelessness. This information should include examples that illustrate specific ways that CoCs could demonstrate that use of funds to serve these youth and families meets Category 3 requirements, including methods CoCs could use to develop estimates of cost-effectiveness. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness The Interim Executive Director of USICH, in coordination with HUD's Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs and HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, should establish a timeline for developing and disseminating information, such as an interactive decision-making tool, to help providers accurately identify the federal homelessness assistance programs for which individuals seeking services are eligible. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, in coordination with USICH and HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, should establish a timeline for developing and disseminating information, such as an interactive decision-making tool, to help providers accurately identify the federal homelessness assistance programs for which individuals seeking services are eligible. (Recommendation 4)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Health and Human Services HHS's Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, in coordination with USICH and HUD's Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs, should establish a timeline for developing and disseminating information, such as an interactive decision-making tool, to help providers accurately identify the federal homelessness assistance programs for which individuals seeking services are eligible. (Recommendation 5)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, in coordination with HHS's Family and Youth Services Bureau and Children's Bureau, should develop information for local providers that includes examples of how communities have addressed the needs of unaccompanied minors experiencing homelessness, including the role of the CoC program and other entities (such as RHY providers and child welfare) in serving this population in these communities. (Recommendation 6)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Health and Human Services HHS's Associate Commissioners for the Family and Youth Services Bureau and for the Children's Bureau, in coordination with HUD's Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs, should develop information for local providers that includes examples of how communities have addressed the needs of unaccompanied minors experiencing homelessness, including the role of the CoC program and other entities (such as RHY providers and child welfare) in serving this population in these communities. (Recommendation 7)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, in coordination with HHS's Family and Youth Services Bureau, should provide communities with additional information on strategies and promising practices for coordinating their CoC and RHY programs' efforts to address youth homelessness. (Recommendation 8)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Health and Human Services HHS's Associate Commissioner for the Family and Youth Services Bureau, in coordination with HUD's Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs, should provide communities with additional information on strategies and promising practices for coordinating their CoC and RHY programs' efforts to address youth homelessness. (Recommendation 9)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs HUD's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, in coordination with HHS's Family and Youth Services Bureau, should develop a set of optional youth-specific performance measures that CoCs could use to assess their local efforts to address youth homelessness. HUD should also provide CoCs with information on how they might track these measures. (Recommendation 10)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Full Report

GAO Contacts