Health Care for Homeless Youth

Every youth is entitled to a decent home and other social amenities to achieve positive development. The home provides a sense of belonging and security. However, homelessness among youth remains a significant challenge in the United States as over 1.3 million adolescents lack a proper home and live unsupervised on the streets (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2016; Chelvakumar et al., 2017). Homeless youth faces diverse challenges as they live without a family or proper social services, making them one of the most vulnerable populations in the country (Bronstein, 1996). They face barriers to access to healthcare, education, and other social services available to adolescents living in secure homes. They also experience health issues, including depression, anxiety, and withdrawal. Hence, Bronstein (1996) argues that these individuals require macro and micro attention at the policy and practice level. Although healthcare policies are implemented to provide accessible care to homeless youth, they remain ineffectively applied as the implementors ignore the role of health promotion in this population.

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A Description of the Current Policy Approach

The current policy approach to address the social problem of homelessness among the youth focuses on efforts to provide health care to the affected individuals. Mainly, the population remains on the streets with limited chances to get adequate health care services and other social services. The federal government has enacted initiatives to reduce health inequalities in the country by targeting vulnerable populations such as the homeless youth. The policy efforts emanate from the reality of the disproportionate risk for adverse health outcomes among the homeless (Chelvakumar et al., 2017). Thus, the current approach emphasizes reducing barriers to accessing healthcare to ensure that a considerable number of youths get preventive and treatment services. The policy efforts are developed to meet the needs of the homeless by developing services personalized to their needs. They also aim at raising awareness in the population to increase their tendency to access the services.

A Description of the Current Policy Goals

Policy makers in social work aimed at providing social services, including health care to the vulnerable populations. Therefore, the primary goal of the policy efforts in addressing the social issues affecting the homeless in the country is to ensure access to appropriate and quality health care to the individuals (Steen, 2012). These individuals are the poorest and most vulnerable to mental and physical health problems due to their homeless status. Furthermore, the health care system should be equipped to provide care services tailored to the needs of the homeless in society. The fee-for-service professional community provides the homeless youth with the support and works with healthcare providers to ensure that the affected youth access the critical medical services when in need (Acker, 2010). Most of the homeless youths avoid seeking care for lack of resources and information about the availability of services targeted to them.

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A Description of the Population

The policy effort targets homeless youth to provide them with health care services for their mental and physical needs. The population comprises of adolescents who lack a home to go back to, making them different from “runaways” (Bronstein, 1996). The homeless come from environments prone to violence and trauma. As a result, they suffer the risk of mental health issues resulting from the trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder and functional impairment (Oransky, Hahn, Stover, 2013). Furthermore, the youth suffer from higher levels of poverty and related social issues compared to their homeless counterparts. Their socio-economic reality such as inadequate education opportunity makes it challenging for them to acquire meaningful employment to achieve social mobility (Woolsey, 2010). The social and cultural problems hinder their access to healthcare services regardless of their dire need for the care.

An Explanation of the Funding Levels for the Current Policy Approach

The role of Federal government funds policy is to provide social services for the homeless in the United States through the states. Healthcare programs for the homeless in the community are funded under the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funds (Lebrun-Harris et al., 2013). The policy informs the creation of community-based healthcare organizations to provide medical services to vulnerable populations in the country, including the youth experiencing homelessness. The legislation under which the Health Center Program is created authorizes adequate financing for health care for the homeless individuals. The program has provided the finances since 1988, and in 2010, $173 million in Health Care was awarded to 208 health center organizations (Lebrun-Harris et al., 2013). The finances are adequate to improve primary health care access, as well as other services, including substance abuse treatment and mental health services for the vulnerable youth. The policy is based on the recognition of the complexity in providing care to these individuals and strives to coordinate efforts to reach as many of the target youth as possible.

The Effect of the Policy on the Homeless Youth

The homeless youth is a vulnerable population in the United States. They at the risk of mental and physical health problems due to their high-risk social environment (Steen, 2012). The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funds enable the provision of health care services to the homeless youth in the country (Lebrun-Harris et al., 2013). The policy ensures that these individuals are treated at no cost. Notably, the homeless youth lacks the financial resources to pay for services as they live in poverty and experience other social disadvantages, including lack of access to education and employment (Woolsey, 2010). Therefore, the policy enhances their lives positively by providing equality in access to health care. However, the policy does not include awareness creation efforts to educate the at-risk homeless youths about the availability and importance of the healthcare services.

Analysis of Effectiveness

The federally funded health centers have been effectively achieving the objective of providing health care services to homeless youth in the country. For example, in 2010, the initiative offered services to 19.5 million patients across the country, including more than 1 million homeless patients. In addition, they provided services to about 80 percent of homeless individuals (Lebrun-Harris et al., 2013). However, the policy has not achieved the objective of promoting the health of the homeless in the country. The primary challenge is the lack of an awareness creation component of the programs to inform the homeless youths about the availability of services they can use for their health care. For instance, homeless youths still face the problem of inadequate preventive care. As a result, they seek care when the mental or physical health problem has already progressed. The lack of effective intervention is the reason many of the homeless youths are struggling with mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Recommendations for Alternative Policies

Although the current policy approaches are working, especially in providing health care services to homeless youth, they have not achieved complete effectiveness in addressing the problem. Government-funded policies and programs should also focus on prevention and identifying at-risk individuals for timely intervention. The policies should work more effectively with the social workers to identify the individuals with the most need for preventive care and those at the danger of adverse health outcomes such as substance abuse. Implementing policies for preventive care will not only provide better intervention but also reduce the cost of treatment for homeless youth in the country. A healthcare promotion policy targeting the homeless youth will reduce the cost burden in their treatment since some of their health care problems such as the use of substances can be prevented by addressing the underlying mental issues, including trauma.


The homelessness problem has become an epidemic in the United States, especially affecting the youth. The population is on the streets due to the lack of a home to return to, explaining the difference between this population and runaways. The homeless youths face considerable challenges, including physical and mental health and the risk of adverse outcomes such as substance abuse. Current policy efforts focus on providing health care services to homeless youth. Federally-funded programs under the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funds have been serving the healthcare needs of the population. However, the effectiveness of the policies is limited because of inadequate awareness creation component to support preventive care. Thus, the programs should include a health promotion element and engage social workers in its implementation.

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