Homeless Youth in Columbia

Teens in Crisis: Homeless Youth in Columbia
You’ve heard about the problem occurring in cities like St. Louis or Chicago. You may have seen them walking the streets or camping in the neighboring woods. And perhaps you even know a teenager who “needs a place to stay.” Whatever your exposure to homeless youth has been, it is possible that you were impacted by their stories. Rainbow House receives 2-3 calls a month from homeless youth who have either been abused or kicked out of the same home that is supposed to love and nurture them. On the occasions that we were able to serve these youth, we found that they are really remarkable young people who just need a little support, love, and guidance to get their life on track. Adolescence is a significant time for social, physical, and mental development. It represents a crossroads at which point all decisions may impact the course of one’s entire life. Imagine being a young person again… dealing with peer pressure, body changes, mood swings, and the responsibility of creating a productive future. Imagine dealing with this while you are alone, homeless, hungry, and with little family support.

Local Findings

Over a period of several months research—through consultation with local social service agencies, as well as discussing the issue at monthly Homeless Youth Task Force meetings—Rainbow House learned that there are many homeless youth in Columbia and they experience a wide array of problems including: domestic violence, substance abuse, unemployment, sexual assault, lack of transportation, school truancy, academic failure, single parenting, generational history of abuse and neglect, and a myriad of mental and physical health issues. Many homeless youth do what they have to do in order to survive such as sleeping in cars, bartering sex for shelter, “couch surfing” from one friend’s house to another, or residing with abusive family members who threaten to “kick them out”. Without real support, such youth may find themselves in and out of jail, dependent on the welfare system, or living their life in a chronic state of crisis.

Sol House: Youth Alone

At one Boone County Homeless Youth Task Force meeting, current and former homeless youth shared their difficult journeys. One youth stated that he ran away from his foster home several years ago and hitch-hiked from Missouri to California with no money or support from friends or family. When he returned to Columbia, he had few resources to help him prepare for the future. Another youth who is pregnant explained that is she is unemployed and lacks proper transportation to get to her prenatal appointments.

How many local homeless youth?

In 2005, the Boone County Juvenile Office reported 166 runaway referrals.

During the 2005-2006 school year, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education documented 26 students as homeless. These students resided within Boone County and were between 9th and 12th grade.

Between March 14, 2007-April 14, 2007, Rainbow House conducted a Point in Time Study.  With the help of local agencies, we tracked 17 homeless and runaway youth between the ages of 16-21. Of that count: 13 were 18 years old and younger, 3 were pregnant, and 2 had children.

From the beginning of the program we have served over 40 youth.

Through conversations with former and current homeless youth as well as consulting with helping professionals in the area, we have found that local homeless youth may deal with any one of the following.

General Concerns:

  • Victim of physical abuse and neglect
  • Victim of sexual abuse/assault
  • Victim of/exposed to domestic violence
  • Current or history of substance abuse-alcohol and drugs
  • Current or history of poverty
  • No supportive family or friend support
  • Unemployment-lack of employable skills and job history/training
  • Lack of life and independent living skills -self care, cooking, cleaning, laundry, scheduling/keeping appointments
  • Involvement in prostitution and coerced participation in production of pornography
  • History of delinquent/criminal activity, history of incarceration, risk of incarceration (impacts ability to apply for housing and other services)
  • Chronic illness-physical and mental
  • Learning disorders, low cognitive functioning
  • Lack of transportation
  • Living in crime-filled neighborhoods-possible history of gang involvement
  • Parenting on or multiple children

Sol House: Pensive Youth


  • Attachment and trust issues
  • ant anonymity and freedom
  • Suspicious or cautious of helping agents and institutions
  • Mental health issues- substance abuse, depression, anxiety, self-mutilation behaviors
  • Impulsive
  • May lack sense of responsibility and accountability
  • Poor follow through
  • Difficulty in complying with authority


  • Medical and dental attention-exams, treatment, education
  • Transportation education and practice-learn bus lines
  • Empowerment-leadership opportunities
  • Education-completion of high school, GED, pursue college or vocational training
  • Help with securing long term housing
  • Mental Health needs-assessments, counseling, therapy, medication
  • Structured supervision with opportunity for 24 hour crisis counseling and support
  • Opportunities to develop trusting and supportive relationships
  • Employment-development of employable skills, resume-building, vocational training
  • Development of life and independent living skills -self care, cooking, financial planning/budgeting, cleaning, laundry, scheduling/keeping appointments
  • Education on various issues-abuse, trauma, loss, conduct, hygiene, health/fitness, relationships, sex education
  • Mentoring relationships-peer and adult
  • Spiritual and/or religious support
  • Exploration into special interest, hobbies, passions
  • Opportunities to volunteer and participate in community activities

This is just a glimpse into the chaotic, crisis-driven lives of these youth. The more we understand the many faces of this problem, the more effective we can be in finding solutions and support.