Let me tell you some statistics so you understand the severity of youth homelessness in America.
- approximately 50,000 young people in the U.S. sleep on the streets for 6 months or more
- estimated 550,000 unaccompanied youth are homeless longer than one week
- 39% of the entire homeless population is under 18
- 1 in 7 young people will run away from home
- the average age a teen becomes homeless is 14 years
- teens 12-17 are more likely to become homeless than adults
- 50% of youth who are homeless said their parents either told them to leave, or knew that they were leaving and didn’t care
When we talk about homeless youth, we’re talking about young people age 24 and under, although most of them are about 14-17. A lot of kids become homeless when their families become homeless, but most of them are either kicked out or run away.
Youth run away or are homeless for several reasons. Sometimes it has something to with their involvement in the juvenile justice or child welfare systems. Many homeless kids were foster kids, but they aged out and were discharged with no housing or income support. Sometimes they are being physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused at home and they eventually decide to leave. Sometimes there is some kind of severe family conflict going on, whether their parents are addicts, or abuse each other in front of the kids, or something else that’s unhealthy. Sometimes these youth are neglected or even abandoned by their parents.
Obviously, unaccompanied homeless youth are much more likely to get mixed up in bad things than other kids. Their experiences are also different than those of homeless kids who live with their families. Although those kids still have some tremendous issues and things to deal with, at least they have family by their side; unaccompanied youth are all on their own.
These kids, on their own and on the streets, are vulnerable to a range of awful, negative experiences, including exploitation and victimization. Because of their age and circumstances, they aren’t usually able to (legally) make enough money to meet their basic needs; so many, many homeless youth trade sex for money, clothing, and food. They also steal, and are much more likely to engage in criminal behavior and get involved in the juvenile justice system. They’re also often severely depressed, understandably so, and they drink and do drugs to mask the pain.
Homeless youth also have a hard time getting an education, because of the school system’s legal guardianship requirements, residency requirements, and requirements for proper records. Not to mention, sometimes kids just don’t have transportation to school. A lack of education certainly makes it harder for these kids to get on their feet and take care of themselves.
Isn’t it sickening when you think about it? Did you realize how many kids are homeless in our country, and not only how many are homeless, but how many are homeless BY THEMSELVES? Can you believe some of the circumstances these kids are in? Can you believe that a parent would kick their child out of their home, knowing that they have nowhere safe to go? Isn’t it awful imagining what they go through out there?
We cannot continue to allow this to happen to youth in our country. This is happening to far too many kids, and it shouldn’t be happening at all. We need more programs with emergency shelters available to young people. We need a health care plan designed specifically for homeless youth so their needs can be taken care of. We need programs that will help these youth regain stability, and especially programs with staff who are trained to break through their walls of fear and cynicism. We need to help these young people get an education, and help them find jobs so they can support themselves and gain skills they need to be successful. We need to educate our community so everyone is aware of what’s going on. We need to coach parents to be GOOD parents and take care of the needs of their children, rather than throwing them out on the streets and abandoning them. We need to take care of the children in our country.
Here at Youth Outreach in Newberg, Oregon, we offer a variety of services to runaway and homeless youth in Yamhill County.
- We have a Safe Shelter program, in which we offer emergency shelter for youth ages 11-17 who run away, are kicked out, are homeless, or maybe just need some time away from their parents. We have a 24 hour hotline the youth can call in case they need shelter after hours. We pick them up wherever they are, and take them to stay with a family in our community, where they’ll have a warm bed and food to eat.
- For youth ages 18-21, we have a Transitional Living Program for those who are homeless or kicked out. We set them up in an apartment for up to a year and a half (at no cost to them), and we help them find a job, save money, go to college if they’d like, and accomplish whatever other goals they have so they can be successful.
- We have a Street Outreach program that allows us to reach youth in our community. Every day, we send a team of three staff/volunteers out to tell youth about our services. We go downtown, to parks, and other places where youth often hang out. We carry a backpack full of food, toiletries, socks, and anything else a homeless youth may need.
- We recently started a Jobs Program. We have a Job Development Specialist who is available to help teens who need help finding a job, creating a resume, or practicing interview skills. She has monthly “Jobs Workshops” where she goes over different aspects of what it takes to get a job.
- In downtown Newberg, we have a Teen Drop-In Center that is designed to keep teens off the streets and in a safe, positive environment with adults who care. We have board games, video games, pool, fooseball, and other activities. We plan fun parties and events. We give the youth snack everyday after school, and have food bags available for homeless youth who come in. We have Study Hall twice a week, and offer free tutoring. We also offer peer support groups and prevention classes every month, and discuss things like safe dating, teen drinking, how to quit smoking, etc. Our drop-in center is open until 9 pm, giving teens a safe place to hang out even after dark.
The goal is to completely end youth homelessness by 2020. It’ll take a lot of work, but we need to get these kids out of danger and give them a better life.