Methods: This analysis includes 599 CalYOUTH respondents who participated in wave 1 and 2 interviews and who granted permission to access their child welfare administrative records. Predictors were measured at wave 1 (age 17), and homelessness was assessed at wave 2 (age 19). The outcome measure was a three-category variable including ever homeless since wave 1, ever couch-surfed since wave 1, and neither homeless nor couch-surfed since wave 1 (reference group). Multinomial logistic regression explored predictors of homelessness, including: demographic characteristics; history of maltreatment; foster care history characteristics; history of special education; mental health and substance use disorders; perceived self-reliance; perceived social support; criminal justice system involvement; and months in foster care between age 18 and the wave 2 interview. Multiple imputation was used to address missing data.
Results: At age 19, almost a fifth of youth reported having been homeless and over a quarter had couch surfed since their wave 1 interview. Several predictors were significantly (p<.05) associated with homelessness and couch surfing. Youth who changed placements more frequently while in foster care had greater odds of couch surfing (OR=1.2) and homelessness (OR=1.2). More instances of physical abuse or neglect prior to entering care increased the expected odds of couch surfing (OR=1.1) and homelessness (OR=1.1). Each additional month youth remained in care past their 18th birthday decreased the odds of couch surfing (OR=0.9) and homelessness (OR=0.9) Finally, youth who had ever run away from a placement (OR=5.0) before age 18 and youth who had been in a special education classroom (OR=1.7) were at increased risk of experiencing homelessness .
Conclusions and Implications: Consistent with past studies, a troubling proportion of foster youth experience homeless during the transition to adulthood. The analyses suggest that youth who have frequent placement changes, experience more types of maltreatment, run away from care, or receive special education services are at increased risk of homelessness and/or couch surfing. Staying in care after 18 was found to protect foster youth against the risk of experiencing homelessness. These findings suggest that youth with challenging life experiences may need additional support to prevent them from living on the streets or in unstable living conditions.