Model State Statutes for Homeless Youth: A Guide to Guarding Unhoused Children

homeless youth

Credit Image: © Jose M. Osorio/TNS via ZUMA Press Wire David Williams, 22, walks on the street near The Crib, a place for homeless kids to seek shelter, located in the basement of Lakeview Lutheran Church in Chicago, Ill. on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.

A new guide provides comprehensive strategies and recommendations for policymakers to address and prevent youth homelessness effectively.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, an astonishing 4.2 million youth endure homelessness in the United States each year. That’s 4.2 million dust-covered bookbags. 4.2 million empty desks. 4.2 million secrets surfing over subway benches and best friend’s basement sofas. It’s 4.2 million tiny shoes wandering aimlessly across America without a stable place to go.

Children, adolescents, and young adults face unique obstacles to housing that their older counterparts are not experiencing, from the lack of access to vital documents like birth certificates and social security cards to the slamming door of an education system that is not designed to suit their needs, from evading child welfare and getting wrapped up in the juvenile justice system to being unable to acquire housing and employment due to paperwork and age restrictions.

Overview: A Vital Guide to Youth Homelessness is Available for Free Online

Because of these unique barriers to housing, several nonprofit organizations have put their heads and hearts together to publish a 191-page document detailing the trials and best solutions for navigating youth homelessness. That document, titled “Model State Statutes: Youth and Young Adult Homelessness,” is a collective volume of work provided by the following companies:

  • The American Bar Association
  • Commission on Homelessness and Poverty
  • The National Homelessness Law Center
  • The Homeless Youth Legal Network
  • The National Network for Youth
  • Schoolhouse Connections
  • True Colors United
  • Legal Counsel for Youth and Children
  • PRP
  • Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
  • Arizona Legal Women and Youth Services

The team behind the publication consists of legal experts, advocates, researchers, educators, and people drawing directly from lived experience.

“As a child, I experienced different forms of food and housing insecurity, as well as homelessness with my mother in California. My family was also impacted by several systems, including the criminal justice system. These experiences brought me to this work and inform how I think and talk about these important issues,” said Communications Associate Erika Lopez when explaining her inspiration for homeless advocacy in a recent meeting on the topic.

What Case Managers and Crisis Counselors Can Learn from the Document

Model State Statutes encompass many of the barriers that are crippling the growth of this age group. It contains information on how to obtain birth certificates, social security cards, and driver’s licenses and details the repercussions of not having access to those items. It opens up discussions around education and exit strategies and takes an in-depth look at the following:

  • Displacement
  • Truancy
  • Curfews
  • Behavioral Health and Mental Institutions
  • Youth Detention
  • Foster Care and much more

The guide is focused on four key principles, which include:

  1. Impoverishment and Impression
  2. Homelessness as a Housing Problem
  3. Effective Advocacy
  4. Law and the Need for Acknowledgement and Autonomy

The goal of the publication is to provide guidance and inform policymakers of the best possible strategies for preventing youth homelessness. A huge part of that mission involves replacing long-held incorrect beliefs with facts.

Changing the Narrative: Learning the True Underlying Causes of Youth Homelessness

In addition to providing unparalleled resources for opening the doors to housing, employment, and education, Model State Statutes also thoroughly examines the incorrect and harmful narrative that houseless children and adolescents are “delinquent,” “incorrigible,” or otherwise unworthy of sympathy. Through this narrative guide, caregivers, counselors, and case managers can come to understand that many of the pathways into youth homelessness involve some combination of the following:

  • Foster care
  • Child abuse
  • Death or incarceration of a parent or guardian
  • Discrimination
  • Poverty, etc.

Understanding these unique challenges is imperative to turning that unfavorable narrative around and fostering a safe environment where young, impressionable people can learn and grow.

Terms, Definitions, and Minor’s Rights

As per the statute’s literature, a minor is defined as anyone who has not yet reached the state-mandated age of adulthood. Minors fleeing domestic violence situations or dealing with homelessness as the result of the death or incarceration of a caregiver often struggle with contracting for necessities due to being unable to provide a parent or guardian’s signature.

The Model State Statutes publication thoroughly explains terms often associated with unhoused youths, as well as definitions and their right to contract for necessities. Through this guide, unaccompanied youths should be deemed “qualified and competent” to receive the following:

  • Basic necessities (i.e., food, shelter, clothing, electricity, internet services, and medical assistance)
  • Legal representation
  • Financial support
  • Student loans
  • High school and higher education and more

Dominique Riley, a crisis counselor for Philadelphia youth, says she has faced tremendous challenges working with unhoused youths, particularly those under the age of 14, who are unable to obtain parental consent for vital needs like medical help and financial assistance. She sees the document as a promising piece of information and the associated website as a possible pathway for team members like her who are trying to address specific needs.

“I think that this needs better promotion. A lot of young people are social media crazy, so just getting it out on these platforms that the youth follow could be a big step. This way, they can access some of these resources themselves or at least know there is literature out there to guide them. You don’t see a lot of people walking the streets and handing out things, but creating pamphlets with this kind of information on them could also be useful, she said.

Talk to Your Representatives About Our Young People Falling Through the Cracks

This publication and its accompanying website were created with your local legislators in mind. Please advise your representatives to follow the recommendations of housing experts by advocating for our nation’s young people, too many of whom are falling through the cracks into homelessness.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

Related Topics

Get the Invisible People newsletter


homeless woman grants pass


disabled homeless man in Grants Pass


Elderly homeless woman in Grants Pass, Oregon


Homeless woman on the sidewalk in Miami



restrictive zoning laws hinder development of affordable housing

Restrictive Zoning Laws Exacerbate the Housing Shortage Crisis in D.C.

Mental Health Crisis, Homelessness

From Hippocrates to Homelessness: A Journey Through Medical Ethics and Social Neglect

Tiny Homes under construction for homeless people

Homeless Housing Projects Face Delays as Need Grows

public bathrooms

Adding Public Bathrooms in NYC is a Small Step in the Right Direction

Get the Invisible People newsletter