More young people in Michigan are facing housing insecurity than previously reported

Jennifer Erb-Downward, a senior research associate at Poverty Solutions, says more young people are also facing lack of access to medical care. 


More teens in the state are facing homelessness and lack of access to proper health care. And transgender teens face higher rates of homelessness. That’s according to the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions.

In 2019, the State of Michigan added the questions of housing security to its Youth Risk Behavior Survey. It’s a part of a larger Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey on youth risk behaviors in all 50 states. 

“So this was a really interesting opportunity that we’d never had before in the state of Michigan. And so we thought it would be just to be really helpful to get a better handle on what is actually the experience of high school youth in terms of housing stability, and homelessness, and how that’s impacting them.” —Jennifer Erb-Downward, University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions

Nearly 6% of Michigan high school aged kids self-reported being homeless in 2019, which equates to roughly 22,000 teens facing unstable housing. 

Twenty-six percent of transgender teens who self-reported said they were facing or have faced homelessness, compared to 11% of peers who do not identify as LGBTQ.

Jennifer Erb-Downward is a senior research associate at U-M’s Poverty Solutions. She says there are far more young people in the state facing homelessness than previously known.

Erb-Downward says according to the data, a third of youth who were homeless in the last 30 days also reported that they’d run away from home and been kicked out or abandoned. “That’s a very large number of youth who are experiencing homelessness, and not having a stable place to live and also don’t have an adult who is with them during their experience of homelessness, and that places them at even greater risk,” Erb-Downward says.

That means more young people are also facing lack of access to medical care.

“One thing that is true in the state of Michigan,” Erb-Downward says, “is that minors, homeless, unaccompanied minors are not able to consent for their own health care.” 

Listen: Jennifer Erb-Downward talks about the findings and what solutions could be put into place to help a vulnerable population in the state. 


“We see youth who are homeless being at greater risk for attempted suicide, we see them being at greater risk for all sorts of negative health outcomes,” Erb-Downward says. “And yet, we are legally preventing them from accessing services that could help to bridge that connection to care. And that is particularly disturbing in the context of an ongoing pandemic. If they have strep throat, they can’t consent for health care. If they have a tooth infection, they can’t consent for health care. All of these things, if treated, right away, can be dealt with, but long term, if they’re not treated, they can lead to debilitating long term medical issues.”

School-based health centers can be a resource for teens struggling to access care. “There is a lot of great work being done on school-based health centers in the state of Michigan,” Erb-Downward says.

One thing that the data shows is the importance of making sure “those services are LGBTQ friendly, and that they are trauma informed as well,” Erb-Downward says. “Youth who are experiencing homelessness have experienced a lot of trauma. That’s what these data show. And if we’re trying to meet their needs in the services that we provide in how we connect them to shelter, to health care, we need to be aware of that.

“One great way to do that is to start with talking to those who experience homelessness, ask them what they need. And it’s exciting to see that happening more and more, but I think we need to continue to push those efforts forward and really, really listen.”

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  • Tia Graham
    Tia Graham is a reporter and Weekend Edition Host for 101.9 WDET. She graduated from Michigan State University where she had the unique privilege of covering former President Barack Obama and his trip to Lansing in 2014.