Teenage Runaways

According to the National Runaway Safeline there are between 1.7 and 2.8 million runaway and homeless youth live on the street each year. Seattle, San Francisco and New York City are the top destinations for runaways, but Hollywood has the highest, numbering 4,000 homeless youth. Some of the statistics are alarming:

  1. 39 percent of the homeless population is young people under 18.
  2. 63% of runaways are girls  and 37% are boys
  3. About 75 percent of homeless teens use drugs or alcohol as a means to self-medicate to deal with the traumatic experiences and abuse they face.
  4. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found that 46 percent of homeless youth left their home because of physical abuse. 17 percent left because of sexual abuse.
  5. Over 5000 runaways die on the streets each year. Major causes of death are:
  • Assault
  • Diseases (including but not limited to AIDS) and illness
  • Suicide     
  • Drug overdose.
  1. Approximately 40 percent of homeless teens identify as LGBT.
  2. Over 50 percent of young people in shelters and on the streets report that their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving and didn’t care.
  3. The average age a teen becomes homeless is 14.7 years.
  4. 1 in 7 young people between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away.
  5. Teens age 12 to 17 are more likely to become homeless than adults.

Teens that are leaving home are usually running from something rather than to something. The National Runaway Safeline cites the number one reason why teenagers run away as family problems. Approximately 52% its callers give this as their reason. The other most common reasons are:

  • School/peer pressure 13%
  • Physical abuse 8%
  • Alcohol/drug abuse 6%
  • Sexual abuse 4%
  • Emotional abuse 4%
  • Legal issues, 3%
  • Pregnancy 2%

While there is no stereotypical runaway, they generally fit into 3 groups:

Situational Runaways - They are the largest group, consisting of young people who leave home for a day or two after an argument with parents.  They may spend time in a runaway shelters or spend a brief time on the street, but they usually return home within a few days. 

Chronic Runaway -   They can start off as situational or repeat runaways but eventually they do not return home. They live with friends, shelters, cheap hotels, abandoned buildings or on the street. They tend to hang out at fast food restaurants, shopping malls and video arcades. These youth are usually totally on their own for their survival and are frequent victims of the violence and sexual abuse.

Throwaways - These youth leave home because their parents have abandoned them, asked them to leave, or subjected them to extreme levels of abuse or neglect.  Many in this group have been passed around relatives or lived in foster care of facility.

Young people who are chronic runaways or live on the street are exposed to all types of horrible conditions:

  1. HIV rates for homeless young people are 2 to 10 times higher than reported rates for other samples of adolescents in the U.S.
  2. Runaway and homeless youth experience rape and assault rates 2 to 3 times higher than the general population of youth.
  3. Many homeless youth engage in survival sex.
  4. 162,000 homeless youth are estimated to be victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the United
  5. Homeless youth are 7 times as likely to die from AIDS and 16 times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV as the general youth population.
  6. An estimated 16,859 to 27,600 runaway and homeless youth in the United States are currently HIV
  7. Homeless youth are 3 times more likely to use marijuana and 18 times more likely to use crack cocaine than non-homeless youth.
  8. Youth living on their own are at a higher risk for anxiety disorders, depression, posttraumatic stress.

Much of the information that TeenHealthFX presented is frightening, but we really want anyone who is considering running away from home to have a realistic understanding. We recognize many teens have reached their breaking point and no longer can take the abusive environment that they are living in and are willing to take their chances on the street. We are not encouraging anyone to stay in an unhealthy situation but to recognize that there are other alternatives then running away. If you are considering leaving home here are 10 questions you should ask yourself before you leave:

  1. What else can I do to improve my home situation before I leave?
  2. What would make me stay at home?
  3. How will I survive?
  4. Is running away safe?
  5. Who can I count on to help me?
  6. Am I being realistic?
  7. Have I given this enough thought?
  8. What are my other options?
  9. If I end up in trouble, who will I call?
  10. When I return home, what will happen. 

 (National Runaway Safeline)

If you really need to get out of your current living situation, there are alternatives and you don’t have to do it alone. Instead, talk to someone you trust, or contact your local Safe Place program for help. If your town does not have a Safe Place program, contact the National Runaway Safeline (NRS).  The NRS is a national toll-free hotline (1-800-RUNAWAY) serving runaways, homeless, and at risk youth and their families.