Research Framework

The State Index scores each jurisdiction’s steps towards preventing and ending youth homelessness by tracking relevant metrics across the following categories: Right to Housing, Shifting Power in Housing, Maintaining Housing, Accessibility of Housing, Habitability of Housing, Autonomy, Income, Health, Education, Anti-Oppression, Priority Level, and Homelessness Services (coming soon). It also pulls in data around child welfare systems, juvenile and criminal legal systems, election laws and policies, revenue and progressive taxation, and immigration policy.

This year, we focused on transforming and updating the Index to re-center it on the experiences, needs, and policy demands of unhoused youth & young adults (YYA) as they navigate the webs of systems and laws that currently affect their lives. Because we have shifted the State Index’s focus from harm reduction to transformative change, some jurisdictions will have lower scores than years past. This is intended to encourage them. Jurisdictions should not be discouraged if they have a lower score, but instead be motivated by the opportunity to implement policies that will prevent and end youth homelessness.


Each jurisdiction is scored on each metric using the new scoring system discussed on the theory of change tab:

  • Transformative (+2.0 points): Policy prevents and/or ends youth homelessness (by itself or with other metrics), if effectively implemented
  • Transformative Edge (+1.5 points): Policy does not directly prevent and/or end youth homelessness BUT policy undermines systems that cause youth homelessness
  • Reformist (+1.0 point): Policy reduces youth homelessness, if effectively implemented, BUT policy relies on systems that cause youth homelessness
  • Harm Reduction (+0.5 points): Policy reduces harm to unhoused young people, if effectively implemented, BUT policy reinforces systems that cause youth homelessness
  • Status Quo (0.0 points): Policy does not exist OR does not reduce harm to unhoused young people
  • Harmful (-0.5 points): Policy causes harm to unhoused young people
  • Violent (-1.0 point): Policy causes harm to unhoused young people AND policy is malicious

The full list of metrics included in the Index can be found here.

Each metric is given a maximum possible score according to the scoring system. Partial points for each metric are only awarded when it is possible to score a policy as inferior (transformative edge instead of transformative, harm reduction instead of reformist, etc.). Each metric also has a minimum score, ranging from “No law found” (0) to a policy that is harmful (-0.5) or violent (-1). The score for each metric is then added up to determine the jurisdiction’s overall score. The metric maps each have an individual legend specific to the policy being scored. The colors in these legends correspond to the overall scoring scale.

A key takeaway of our research for the State Index is that increased transparency of administrative and regulatory policy on agency websites is greatly needed. One of the State Index’s key principles is that policies must be accessible to the public in order to be effective. Determining whether policies are implemented and enforced is virtually impossible if they are not accessible. The policies we track should be readily available and legible to young people and advocates, not just to attorneys and researchers. Therefore, points are not awarded for policies that are difficult to find and/or interpret.

Each score is additionally weighted as follows:


The jurisdiction has election and voting laws that are designed to make elections less partisan and encourage voting and civic engagement (-1 to +1 point)

    1. Political power is crucial in the fight to end youth homelessness and efforts to erode voting rights and the power of young people are increasing.
      1. Restrictive voting laws fall the hardest on black, brown, and indigenous people and disproportionately impact young adult voters. If young people and people from marginalized communities can’t vote, we won’t have representatives or policies that address their needs and priorities.
      2. Partisan gerrymandering, the practice of drawing districts to favor a particular political party, suppresses the votes of communities of color and results in elected leaders that do not reflect the will of the people they represent, which leads to young people feeling that their voices don’t matter.

The jurisdiction has a progressive taxation structure where the rich pay a higher percentage of income in taxes than people with the lowest incomes (-1 to +1.5 points)

    1. In the absence of more federal investment, state & territorial revenue is going to be required to end and prevent youth and young adult homelessness.
      1. Jurisdictions where tax burdens fall more heavily on people with lower incomes also disproportionately affects young adults, who face higher poverty rates than any other age group.
      2. Allowing young people to struggle with homelessness while the rich don’t pay their fair share is not only morally wrong, but incredibly counterproductive – revenue shortages lead to divestment from our education, housing, public benefits, and other social systems, which causes even more youth homelessness.

The jurisdiction criminalizes homelessness (0 to -1 points)

    1. Criminalizing people, and especially young people, for sleeping, sheltering, and conducting other life-sustaining activities in public is harmful and does not lead to less homelessness.
      1. Making sleeping outside a crime leads to more interaction with the police, which is dangerous and harmful for young people.
      2. Criminal records, fines and fees are a barrier to accessing housing, making it harder to end homelessness for youth and young adults.

The jurisdiction does or does not engage in immigration enforcement not required by the federal government (0.5 to -1 points)

    1. Jurisdictions are not required to use their resources to help the federal government with immigration enforcement, but some voluntarily do so, which is extremely harmful to youth and young adults.
      1. Assisting immigration enforcement can cause youth homelessness, when family members are detained or deported.
      2. It can also cause homelessness by making young people without legal status afraid to seek out services.

We may add additional weighted scores in the future, especially related to the decommodification of housing. We’re also looking at ways to weight state scores with data about rates of youth homelessness in each state. For example, we have some data about rates of homelessness for young people under 18 and young people 18-24 from the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). However, this data is based on annual Point In Time counts, which is widely understood to be an undercount. Data about unhoused students in schools is also unreliable – see this reporting from the Center for Public Integrity and this study indicating that schools in many states are failing to fully identify students meeting the McKinney Vento definition of homelessness.