Homeless youth suffer from high rates of health problems, yet little is known about their perceptions of or context for their own health issues. In this study, a combination of qualitative techniques from participatory rural appraisal and rapid assessment procedures was used to investigate the perceptions of health needs of shelter-based youth in Baltimore, MD in the U.S.A. The most common youth-identified health problems included STDs, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, depression, drug use and injuries. These correlate well with more objective health status data for the same youth. The youth spoke of environmental safety threats of violence and victimization by adults, as well as racism and sexism in their lives. Youth reported that trusted adult figures such as grandmothers are important sources of health advice. Many homeless youth from less than ideal family situations remain in contact with and continue to seek advice from parents and other family members. Health interventions with urban street youth need to acknowledge the primacy of the social context for these youth, as well as the reality of violence as a daily health threat.