By Douglas Partello
It is hard for us to imagine our own child out at night without a jacket, no less all night, without shelter, night after night, on the streets. According to The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) there are an estimated 4.2 million youth and young adults, 16-24, who experience homelessness, 700,000 unaccompanied minors. On any given night, approximately 41,000 unaccompanied youth, ages 13-25, experience homelessness.
The National Center For Housing and Child Welfare estimates between one million, and 1.7 million runaways, or children asked by parents to leave the home. These youth are particularly vulnerable, and often victimized. The U.S. Dept. of HHS states that 71.7% report major trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, 79.5% PTSD for more than a month, and 61.8% report depression. Former foster youth are at risk of homelessness after aging out of foster care at 18.
Many youth are told to leave the home, when they come out to the parents as gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual, or queer, and the parents reject them. There are many reasons for family dysfunction; drug addiction, mental health issues, lifestyle choices, economic, and others, that result in the youth either not feeling safe, or wanted, or forced to leave, and out on the streets as a result.
As homelessness is rising across the U.S, and the world, little attention is given to homeless youth, in terms of funding , and resources, to this specific group. It wasn’t until 2015 that HUD (Housing and Urban Development) included “unaccompanied young adults” in their own category, in their annual nationwide counting of homeless persons. The numbers of homeless youth may be grossly underestimated. HUD does not consider homelessness to include “couch surfing”, which is the most prevalent experience of many homeless youth. The undercounting results in less resources in localities available for shelters and services targeted toward youth.
The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1974 provided nationwide support to address youth and young adult homelessness. But, this is just pennies per month, per individual. In November, 2019, a reintroduced, bipartisan Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prrevention Act was introduced to Congress. This would increase funding to $225 million and double minimum grant allocations to small states, from $100K to $200K. This bill, H.R. 5191 (116th) failed to be enacted. Some Congressmen would not sign if it included LBGTQ youth. To not include them would be unconstitutional, and morally questionable to the co-founders of the bill.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), one of the co-sponsors of the bill said, “No child in America should have to call the street home. Our bill will offer service providers the training and tools they need to best serve young people, to help ensure that they don’t fall victim to human trafficking, and to keep them safe. These are often lifesaving programs, rescuing young lives and giving them crucial lifelines. Our legislation will allow communities in Vermont and across the country to expand their enormously important work.”
This bill included money to do a national study of homeless youth. To date, we do not actually know the numbers of homeless youth, and young adults, from a national study. Depending upon the source, figures from 180,000 to 4.2 million are given.
LGBTQ youth are at high risk of becoming homeless, and represent up to 40% of homeless youth, according to NCSL. Many youth that are homeless are hard to spot. They look like most of the other children, and many attend school. It is just after school that they have nowhere to go. You can find them at coffee shops for lengthy visits, libraries, bus stations, bus rides, malls, anywhere to stay warm, and out of the cold. About 80% of homeless youth use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate for their trauma and abuse they suffer on the streets, or have suffered before leaving home.
Youth who have been homeless by age 24, are highly likely to be homeless at age 48. If is a vicious cycle of self loathing, as society has rejected them, so they reject their own human worth. Many fall into depression, and contemplate suicide. Thoughts of a better life, going to college, are replaced by day-to-day survival mode. According to Arte, a French/Geman public broadcast service, 10-15% of U.S. students in college are homeless. Rashida Crutchfield, a college counselor, in California, says that possibly 1 in 5 college students in California are homeless. The rising cost of tuition, rent, and stagnant wages have left more and more students living in their cars, couch surfing, or just moving from place to place.
Leaving our homeless youth to fend for themselves, out in the cold, and not providing more funding for shelters, and other services is one of the most shameful examples of our failure as a society to protect our children. Here are a few organizations that work with homeless youth:
By Douglas Partello