Chicago (AFP) - More than four million children and young adults are homeless in the United States, researchers said Wednesday in a study billed as the first overall estimate of youth homelessness in the country.
The study released by the University of Chicago defined homelessness broadly to include both those living on the streets and in shelters, and people who are "couch surfing" -- temporarily staying at others' homes for lack of a permanent residence.
"Our survey looked to give the nation -- for the first time -- a fuller view of youth homelessness by finding young people who don't always get counted," said researcher Matthew Morton.
The national survey estimated that at least 4.2 million youths are affected, including 700,000 children between the ages of 13 and 17, and 3.5 million 18- to 25-year-olds.
The study found similar levels of homelessness among urban and rural youth, even though rural homeless were less visible.
At particular risk, however, were African American and Hispanic youth, as well as those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, researchers said.
"We have a collective obligation to ensure all young people have a chance to succeed, starting from a young age," said Bryan Samuels of the University of Chicago.
"As a country, we can look for the missed opportunities in schools, communities and public services to prevent youth homelessness," he said, making the case for early intervention to stem the problem.
A majority of the 18- to 25-year-olds affected had experiences of homelessness that started in childhood or adolescence, the study found, while one third had suffered the death of a family member or caregiver -- an early trauma seen as making them more vulnerable to homelessness.