National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. Established in 1992, its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on communities.

SAMHSA works closely with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), whose mission is to coordinate the federal response to homelessness, creating a national partnership at every level of government and with the private sector to reduce homelessness in the nation while maximizing the effectiveness of the federal government in alleviating homelessness.

As a part of its contribution to USICH, SAMHSA led an expert panel on the role of outreach and engagement in ending homelessness.

People with mental and/or substance use disorders can be particularly vulnerable to becoming homeless or being precariously housed. Therefore, SAMHSA supports programs that address homelessness and increase access to permanent housing for people with mental and/or substance use disorders. SAMHSA’s grant programs and services are helping to alleviate homelessness by ensuring that permanent housing and supportive services are available for individuals with mental health and/or substance use disorders.  More specifically, the agency seeks to support states and communities in delivering evidence-based treatment and recovery supports to end homelessness. The following SAMHSA resources may be of particular interest to the runaway and homeless youth community:

  • SAMHSA offers resources on youth experiencing homelessness. Youth are a rapidly growing part of the homeless population and are often challenged by personal trauma or sexual orientation. Service delivery for this population is more likely to be successful if risk factors are taken into account. A video series and other resources support providers.
  • The resources on mental and substance use disorders cover the most common mental and substance use disorders and how they can be prevented and treated.
  • As one of the leading agencies addressing the impact of trauma on individuals, families, and communities, SAMHSA has made contributions in key areas through a series of significant initiatives, including the development and promotion of trauma-specific interventions, the expansion of trauma-informed care, and the consideration of trauma and its behavioral health effects across health and social service delivery systems. SAMHSA’s trauma and violence information discusses these initiatives, describes common types of trauma and violence, (e.g., bullying, neglect, and sexual assault) and offers resources to address trauma.
  • Information on social inclusion offers resources to address issues often compounded by homelessness, such as marginalization and isolation within the larger society. Also, people with mental and/or substance use disorders frequently face challenges in building and maintaining social connections.
  • SAMHSA supports the Zero Suicide initiative, a commitment to suicide prevention in health and behavioral health care systems. The foundational belief of Zero Suicide is that suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable. 

SAMHSA administers several programs that work to alleviate homelessness by improving access to treatment and services that support health and wellness. While primarily targeting adult populations, SAMSHA’s homelessness programs, which include discretionary and formula grants, may be of interest.

Additional SAMHSA behavioral health and other resources for runaway and homeless youth are provided below.