UN – Youth Homelessness: Interrogating Policy Gaps and Legislative Vacuum

12 February 2020

(ANS – New York) – For next Wednesday, 19 February, the Salesian Mission to the United Nations promotes an event parallel to the activities of the 58th Session of the Commission for Social Development, entitled "Youth Homelessness: Interrogating Policy Gaps and Legislative Vacuum".

Increasing incidence of homelessness is a global phenomenon. We recognize in it the specific character of youth homeless out of policy gaps and legislative limitations. Young people moving to urban areas for educational pursuits and in search of job opportunities find it difficult to obtain suitable, affordable housing. This situation is even more exacerbated as young people who have to leave state institutions on reaching the age of eighteen add to growing homelessness in young adults.  Additionally, there is growing evidence that young people without shelter are increasingly vulnerable to human traffickers and producers of online child sexual abuse material.

The provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and legislations put in place by states to align with the obligations under CRC ensures that children in need of care and protection are in the care of state-funded homes or with foster or adoptive families. In many countries, these provisions do not apply when they reach the age of 18. And young adults are forced into homelessness.

There is a need to critically look at this issue so that necessary policies and legislations are put in place to reduce the risk of young adults who leave safe and secure state homes being driven to a state of homelessness. This side event is intended to create awareness regarding the seriousness of this issue, listen to young adults who are driven to homelessness, present good practices that are in place to address this issue. And in the light of these shared reflections come up with policy recommendations.


Homelessness is a mark of failure for communities in providing basic security. Based on national reports, about 2 percent of the world’s population may be homeless. Another 20 percent lacks adequate housing.

Vulnerable youth are at particular risk due to system failures during the period of adolescent development and by a lack of a support network of being driven to homelessness. This is evident in vulnerable youth transitioning from state care to adulthood, with no support services, which is one of the highest causes of youth homelessness. Other frequent system failures include being discharged from hospitals or the judicial system without a home, resulting in being discharged straight into homeless services.

“Young people leaving care” refers to young people who leave care because they have reached the age when they are no longer entitled to special protection and assistance from the care system. United Nation’s Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty has this to say: “The initial calculations that were available during the drafting of the report to the General Assembly estimated 3.5 to 5.5 million. Further in-depth calculations framed the total population of children in institutions more accurately to 5.4 million.” It is from out of this enormous number of children in state care that those reaching the age of 18 leave to be on their own and have to face homelessness and an uncertain future.  The typical age of a young person leaving care is 18, however, in some countries, this can be up to 26 years, depending on various circumstances.

For young people who have been in care as children, the absence, or variable implementation, of accommodation or other support once they have reached the legal age of majority means that they effectively leave ‘home’ much earlier than other young people. Even in countries where there is the provision to have support to age 27, there is strong pressure from local governments within the country to discharge young people at 18, or even earlier, due to the expense of continuing support. Without a reliable parental home to return to, young people who have been in care as children are often homeless, according to study informants in Austria, Hungary and Norway.

Age becomes a critical marker when considering youth homelessness. Developmentally, there is a huge difference between the needs, circumstances and physical and emotional development of a  14- year-old  compared  to  an  18-year-old  or  a  23-year-old. In addition to significant developmental differences, one must also consider the different statutory responsibilities associated with certain ages.

Additionally, one needs to consider the diversity of the youth homeless population, in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race, descent and work-based discrimination, linguistic barriers and the fact that a large segment of these young are migrants.

These differences do matter and need to be considered when developing responses and interventions. The needs of young women on the streets are not the same as the needs of young men. Sexual minorities and racial minorities face discrimination that mainstream youth do not. Young mothers and young people from new immigrant communities face special challenges.

To create awareness regarding the specificity and seriousness of the issue. To hear the voices of young adults who are forced into homelessness due to lack of policy frameworks and legal provisions. To highlight good practices from around the globe that effectively address this issue. To network so that reliable data is available to provide effective support for advocacy and lobbying to reduce homelessness among the young adults leaving institutional care. To explore possible advocacy strategies to scale up successful models of responding to the situation.

Expected Outcomes

Heightened awareness that one important factor for homelessness is because of policy gaps and legislative vacuum Emergence of a strong network to address the issue of homelessness among young adults. Advocacy and lobbying strategies that will result in plugging policy gaps and legislative vacuum.

The appointment coordinated by the Salesian representative to the UN, Fr Thomas Pallithanam, SDB, will also see three Sons of Don Bosco among the five speakers: Fr Antoine Farrugia, a Maltese Salesian of "Don Bosco International"; Fr Thomas Koshy, National Coordinator of the Salesian Indian network "Youth At Risk"; and Fr Rafo Pinosa, Director of the home for young people at risk "Kodljevo" in Ljubljana, Slovenia, awarded in 2019 by the Slovenian government for "the Contribution to the Promotion of the Youth Sector."

This side event, proposed by the Salesian Mission at UN Headquarter in New York, is co-sponsored by the NGO Committee on Financing for Development, and sponsored by many other institutions: the Society of the Sacred Heart, UNANIMA International, Edmund Rice International, Vivat International, Neighborhood Community Network, Maryknoll Sisters, The Grail, International Presentation Association, Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Medical Mission Sisters, Fondazione Proclade Internazionale-Onlus, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary Congregation de Notre Dame, Sisters of Charity Federation and Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul.  


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