Academic journal article Child Welfare

Shelters for Runaway and Homeless Youths: Capacity and Occupancy

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Shelters for Runaway and Homeless Youths: Capacity and Occupancy

Article excerpt

Data from a nationally representative sample of shelters for runaway and homeless youths (N = 160) were analyzed to determine shelter capacity, occupancy, and occupancy ratios. Analysis focused in particular on occupancy ratios by funding status, shelter size, metropolitan statistical area (MSA), season, and day of the week.

Estimates of the number of youths who run away or are homeless in the United States range from 450,000 to as many as 2.8 million every year [Finklehor et al.1990; Greene et al. 1995]. The majority of these youths are thought to have relatively low-risk experiences (e.g., they run away to a friend's home) and to return home after a few days [National Network 1985]. An unknown proportion, however, end up on the streets or in need of shelter.

In 1974, Congress enacted the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which provides support for shelters and Transitional Living Programs (TLPs). Shelters and TLPs offer an array of services including temporary housing, counseling, crisis intervention, and aftercare and outreach. Federally funded shelters (excluding TLPs) serve youths ages 12 to 17, are limited in size to 20 beds, and restrict youths' stays to a maximum of 15 days; their primary focus is on reuniting runaway and homeless youths with their families. TLPs, designed to provide structured and supportive living arrangements for up to 18 months to runaway and homeless youths ages 16 to 21 who cannot be reunited with their families, are also limited in size to 20 beds.

Federally funded shelters and TLPs, however, constitute only a portion of the youth shelters currently operating in the U.S. The remaining shelters receive funding from state and local governments and private sources, including religious and nonprofit organizations. Because these shelters have never been systematically surveyed, only limited information is available about them, but anecdotal information suggests that they vary considerably in size, average length of stay of youths, and type of youths they serve.

Research on services to runaway and homeless youths is sparse. A few studies that have estimated the number of youth shelter beds available nationwide or the proportion of those that are occupied on any given night have been restricted to federally funded shelters. One such study estimated that an average of 352 youths were served at each of a sample of federally funded shelters in a 12-month period and that each shelter offered an average of ten beds per night, of which an average of eight were filled [Cohen & Van Houten 1990]. Another study of shelter occupancy (but not capacity) by the U.S. Government Accounting Office [1989] estimated that a total of 44,274 runaway and homeless youths were served at federally funded shelters from October 1985 to June 1988.

This article presents findings on shelter capacity and occupancy from the first nationally representative sample of both federally and nonfederally funded youth shelters, and computes national estimates of the capacity and occupancy of youth shelters and of the ratio of capacity to occupancy. In addition, it provides estimates of occupancy and capacity by age of youths served, funding status (i.e., federal versus nonfederal), shelter size, metropolitan statistical area (MSA), season of the year, and day of the week.



A sampling frame was constructed by merging two lists of shelters serving runaway and homeless youths-those that received federal funding in the 1992 fiscal year and those that were members of the National Runaway Switchboard (a national hotline that provides runaway and homeless youths with referrals to shelters and other services). When purged of duplicates, the sampling frame contained a total of 885 shelters.

A single-stage, stratified sampling design was used to select a sample of youth shelters. This sample of 240 shelters was stratified by funding source (i.e., federal and nonfederal), with an equal number of shelters selected from each stratum. …

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