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Running away and future homelessness - the missing link?

By: Shelter Scotland  Published: April 2011

This report is about young people, aged under 16, who run away from home or care and how that might be related to future homelessness. Shelter Scotland believes that today's runaways are tomorrows young homeless people and that if we are serious about preventing homelessness then addressing why children and young people run away is essential.


  • Young people who run away before they are 16 are consistently identified as being at high risk of homelessness and having housing problems in later life. Yet there is a lack of Scottish data on the rates of running away among young homeless people.
  • We undertook a small scale study to gain a better understanding of the patterns and characteristics of young homeless people in Scotland who also ran away overnight from home or care before they were 16.
  • The study highlighted that the vast majority of young homeless people (84 per cent) had also run away before the age of 16. This is considerably higher than the national rate of running away which is estimated at 11 per cent.
  • Over half of young homeless people who ran away had been forced to leave home.
  • This group is also likely to repeatedly run away, with one in three running at least ten times and half staying away for more than four weeks.
  • For most young people, running away was more than a one-off occurrence and one in five (22 per cent) had run away at least ten times. Young homeless people tend to have run away more often than young people who are not homeless. Young people who are persistent runaways are also at greater risk of homelessness in later life.
  • Nearly half of young runaways who subsequently became homeless first ran away when they were 14 or 15 years old, but nearly one in five first ran when they were 11 or younger.
  • Almost two thirds (63 per cent) of young homeless people who had run away had also experienced sleeping rough. This rate is far higher than national estimates of rough sleeping among young runaways as a whole.
  • Most respondents said that support to sort out problems at home or school might have helped prevent them from running away. Around a quarter of the respondents also said somewhere safe would have helped.
  • The report has two core recommendations: making sure that young runaways are supported so that the pattern of running away does not continue; and, for those young people who continue to run away, getting young people' s and homelessness services to work better together to flag up young people at high risk of homelessness.