Barriers for Minors Experiencing Homelessness

purple background with Youth Voices written on it

“A lot of people don’t realize that if you become homeless before you’re 18, it’s a waiting game.”


Emerson is a digital artist. They’re learning to turn photos of people into digital portraits using their tablet. They also just celebrated a birthday at Avenues, and were surprised with a cake, card, and gift thanks to our community partners. Emerson turned 18, officially becoming an adult, breaking an age barrier that many youth experiencing homelessness must face.

“A lot of people don’t realize that if you become homeless before you’re 18, it’s a waiting game,” Emerson explained. “Kids should be able to get debit cards and kids should be able to open bank accounts without their parents. And no one is going to rent an apartment to a 17-year-old.”

Because minors can’t open bank accounts without a parent, Emerson set up a teen-checking account called Step. Through Step, Emerson can deposit checks and buy things online, but it’s very limited. They aren’t able to withdraw money from ATMs or connect their card to cash apps, and Emerson still needs an adult sponsor to have the account.

Before coming to Avenues, Emerson faced other barriers because of their age. The previous shelter they stayed at didn’t allow minors to leave the house unless they had their parents permission. The rule was particularly hard for Emerson because they don’t have a good relationship with their parents, and needed permission to leave just to go to work.

Emerson moved into Avenues in September. In Avenues transitional living programs, all youth are able to leave the houses freely but youth have a curfew, and the curfew is different for minors and youth who are 18 or older. Emerson says they feel like a “human person” at Avenues and likes having autonomy over their day.

“When I came to Avenues, staff immediately signed me up for EBT and got me jobs, and paid for my GED,” Emerson said about their experience at Avenues. “A lot of shelters don’t do that. They just provide a roof. You have a roof, that’s all they’re doing for you.”

Emerson just landed a job at Target and is saving up for an apartment. Now that they’re 18 and building credit, an apartment isn’t far off from Emerson’s future.

“Like 90% of the day I’m thinking about what I need to do to get an apartment in the twelve months I have left here,” Emerson said.

*Emerson’s name has been changed and they use all pronouns.