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Youth Homelessness

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

#endyouthhomelessness

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Teenage Obesity: Take Care of Yourself & Your Health!

We’ve all heard about the obesity issue happening in America… people are getting less active, eating more, and getting more and more unhealthy. Okay, so maybe you eat pizza more often than you should, and maybe it wouldn’t hurt to cut back on the soda… but you aren’t by any means OBESE. In fact, maybe you’re still in pretty good shape. Or maybe you’re just a little bit overweight, but not too bad. Or maybe you are pretty big, but so what? It doesn’t matter what you look like anyway, right? Who cares…

Actually, it has nothing to do with what you look like. It’s not that you need to be a size 2, or super toned, or look like all the girls and guys in magazines and on movies. Not at all. But you DO need to take care of your body and your health.

Childhood obesity had more than doubled in the past 30 years. That’s pretty bad… but with adolescents, it’s quadrupled.

Being obese means you’re 10% higher than what is recommended for your height, age, and body type. It also usually begins in your teenage years. If you become obese while you’re a teenager, it’s very likely that you’ll have a hard time losing the weight and changing your habits, and you’ll live most or all of your life overweight.

What causes obesity?

  • Poor eating habits
  • Overeating or binging
  • Lack of exercise
  • Family history of obesity
  • Stressful life events or changes
  • Family and peer problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not talking about looks here. I’m not saying you need to be super skinny or super fit. I’m saying you need to be careful, because if you become too overweight, you can have all kinds of health problems… some of them could even kill you. Some health concerns are:

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Breathing problems
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Emotional problems
  • Anxiety
  • Bone and joint problems
  • Increased risk of strokes
  • Increased risks of several types of cancer
  • Osteoarthritis

Believe me, I know it’s hard to lose weight and stay healthy. Unfortunately our society has turned into one that doesn’t make health a priority… We’re so busy and on the move, so we pick up fast food because it’s quick and convenient. We’re obsessed with fancy coffee drinks, so we splurge way too often on sugary, 400 calorie mochas and lattes. We like to watch Netflix and play video games instead of going outside. We go to the grocery store and we’re overwhelmed with products that have way too much sugar, fat, and all kinds of other added nasty things that aren’t good for our bodies. Sometimes they even advertise it to make us think it’s healthy, but it’s really not.

So… what are we supposed to do?

There’s lots of things you can do:

  1. Get more active. Start going to the gym, going running, or doing workouts in your room. If working out isn’t really your thing, start walking. Or instead of sitting on your behind playing games, get up and clean the house, or do something else productive. Turn up the music and dance by yourself in your room. Just get moving.
  2. Change your eating habits. Is it the end of the world if you eat pizza or get a cheeseburger? Of course not. But you shouldn’t do it very often, and when you do, you should balance it by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables too. So instead of eating 5 pieces of pizza, eat 2 pieces of pizza with an apple. Read food labels. Be aware of what’s going into your body. Feed your body good, healthy things. Try to eat less fatty and sugary foods, and eat less calories. Also limit snacking.
  3. Go see a doctor. See where you’re at and how you can get healthier.
  4. Join a support group. Look one up in your area… maybe your school counselor can even help you find one. That way you can meet other people who are in the same boat as you, and/or have the same goals you do.

Although, I will say this… if you are going to try to lose weight, do so in a healthy way. Trust me, if you don’t eat ENOUGH calories everyday, it will not do you any good. 

So many Americans are getting so unhealthy, guys. Lets put it a stop to it. Quit feeding your body garbage and fuel it with the nutrients it needs… take care of yourself and your health.

Skipping School: Not Worth It

Just about everyone does it. It really won’t matter if you miss ONE class… I mean, all they’re doing in class is taking notes, probably. It won’t, like, affect your grades or anything. School is just sooo long and boring, going to the mall with your best friend sounds way more fun.

Yeah, lots of people skip school. In fact, about 7 million students miss 18 or more days of school every year. And the kids who skip come from all different kinds of socio-economic backgrounds, all kinds of different social groups, boys and girls. Everyone.

Does that mean YOU should do it?

Teens skip school for all kinds of reasons:

  • They are bored in class
  • They feel disconnected to school
  • They prefer to hang out with friends
  • They don’t think they’ll suffer any consequences
  • School gives them anxiety and they just don’t want to deal with it

If you think that skipping school WON’T affect your grades or your future, you couldn’t be further from the truth. First of all, do you really think you’ll just skip once? If you skip school one time, odds are you’ll do it again… and again, and again, and again.

Every class you miss results in some kind of academic consequence. Those notes you think aren’t a big deal? Maybe you’ll be tested on them. Maybe there will be a pop quiz the next time you show up for class. Maybe there was a new assignment, or two, or three, that your teacher assigned while you were out drinking Dutch Bros. and window shopping with your BFF.

Studies show that absences negatively affect academic results. You miss class, you won’t do as well in school. Obviously. If you skip a lot and fail classes, you may not graduate on time, or at all. If you aren’t on track to graduate, you may be discouraged or embarrassed and just drop out. If you drop out and don’t get your high school diploma, you’ll be less employable and will most likely only be able to get a low-paying job, making it extremely difficult to pay bills and living expenses, and making things harder for you later in life.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Not to mention, if you skip school, odds are you’ll hang out with other teens who skip school. Many teens who skip school engage in other types of rebellious behavior, like drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and vandalism. So you could get into even MORE trouble.

It’s true, lots of people get away with skipping school. But what if you DO get caught? Well, you’ll definitely get detention or be suspended. Your school will also tell your parents, who will probably ground you. If you’re 16 or older, you could even get expelled

Does it seem worth it to you? I mean, sure, hanging out with your friends sounds a lot more appealing than sitting in class all day. Most of us feel that way, even when we get older. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to just skip out. Isn’t it worth it to just sit through those classes, do your work, and earn your diploma? Getting a diploma and a good job someday seems like a much better choice than getting into trouble.

If you skip because of anxiety, let someone know. That happens. You don’t need to sneak around and skip school because of that. There are people who can help you. Tell your parents, a school counselor, teacher, or coach about how you feel, and they can point you in the right direction.

Don’t throw your future away so you can go hang with your friends all day. If your friends are pressuring you to skip, don’t do it. You’re smarter than that. Encourage them to go to class so they don’t throw their futures away, too. It isn’t worth it.

Cliques Aren’t Cool

When you’re at school, sure, you usually hang out with the same people everyday. Or maybe you have a few different groups you hang with. Makes sense… they’re probably people that you have a lot in common with. It isn’t bad to have a group of friends, or to hang with the same people. It only gets bad when you and your friends become “clique-y.”

A “clique” is a tight group of friends that have a strict code of membership and ways to act. They’re not so much about the friendships, but more about maintaining their status and popularity. Sometimes they use their status and power to exclude and be mean to other people. A group of girls might laugh and make fun of another group of girls they pass by in the halls, to make them feel not as cool as them… or they might get mad at a girl in their own group for wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, and not dressing up like them everyday.

If you feel like you’re in the middle of a drama-filled high school movie… your friends are probably too clique-y.

Obviously, girls aren’t the only ones in cliques. While girls usually form their cliques around style and fashion, guys tend to form cliques around a sport, video game, or music.

Cliques can lead to bullying, and that’s something you don’t want to have any part in. There’s no sense in making someone feel bad and like they aren’t as “cool” as you, just because you so desperately want to be cool yourself and fit in, Really… is it worth it? Is it worth being a jerk to someone, just so you can impress your supposed “friends?” Do you REALLY think they’re your friends, if that’s what it takes for them to like you?

Again, being in different groups isn’t bad at all. Maybe you hang with your soccer friends sometimes, your choir friends other times, and the other girls who share your love for reality shows at other times. That’s perfectly normal, and JUST FINE. You should be hanging with people you feel comfortable with, and that you share similar interests with.

It only becomes a problem if you and your friends become obsessed with your status and start bullying other people because of it. Usually, people in cliques aren’t true friends. They’re bossy and demanding. They tell you how you should dress, how you should act, what you should say. Who needs friends like that?

Always remember to be TRUE TO YOURSELF. Make sure you always do the things you love, listen to music you enjoy, and dress how you want to dress. If anyone else isn’t cool with that, you don’t need them. Make sure that all of your friends are cool with you for who you really are.

If one of your friends is getting clique-y and is being a jerk to other people, tell them. Tell them they’re being ridiculous and they need to stop. Be kind and sensitive towards others… you wouldn’t want someone else to be mean to you, or any of your friends. Also don’t let them pressure you. Who cares if they’re giving you a hard time about hanging with that other guy that’s “too lame”? Don’t quit hanging out with him if you enjoy his friendship. YOU are responsible for your own actions. Have a mind of your own.

One thing that seems to be true in most high schools, is that usually it seems to be underclassmen who are more obsessed with cliques and popularity. Once high schoolers get older, they realize that it doesn’t really matter. It isn’t worth it. After high school, nobody will care that you were on homecoming court. All the status and popularity points will disappear. So do you really want to work that hard and sacrifice that much for something that only lasts 4 years??

It’s pretty simple… if you want good friends, BE A GOOD FRIEND. Be a good listener. Be caring. Always check in with your friends to see how things are going. Don’t be mean. Don’t be rude or make anyone feel bad. Be the type of friend you want other people to be to you. Don’t get mixed up in the lame high school drama.

E-cigs: The Gateway Drug

E-cigarettes: a new, safe alternative to regular cigarettes. A great way to quit smoking. A lot healthier for your body than inhaling gross, thick cigarette smoke. Not addictive, and way less nicotine.

Right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, aaaaand wrong… yep, all of that is WRONG.

But unfortunately, that seems to be what everyone thinks. E-cigs are marketed to make people think that they aren’t as bad as cigarettes. This new industry wants to make people think they are a “new, safe alternative,” and they want cigarette smokers to start using e-cigs when they attempt to “quit.”

E-cigs are battery powered smoking devices that are designed to look and feel like regular cigarettes. They have cartridges filled with liquid that contains nicotine, flavorings (fruity, chocolate, mint, whatever), and other chemicals that aren’t good for you. The e-cig heats up and the heat turns the liquid into a vapor, which is then breathed into the lungs.

Because of the way e-cig companies make their product come across, people who don’t do their RESEARCH are convinced that they’re not so bad for you. And, sadly, most people aren’t seeming to do their research. The e-cig industry is growing… and they are especially popular among teenagers.

Sure, when you smoke an e-cig, you aren’t breathing smoke into your lungs, which is why people think they’re so much better. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t breathing all kinds of other garbage into your lungs. With e-cigs, you are still putting just as much nicotine in your system as with cigarettes.

Here’s what nicotine does to you:

  • affects your brain
  • affects your nervous system
  • affects your heart and heart rate, and puts you at risk for heart failure
  • puts you at risk for getting blood clots
  • puts you at risk for getting stomach ulcers

Nicotine is also SUPER addictive. If you try it, even once or twice, you will crave it. And when you have a craving, you can become depressed and feel really tired. It can also be toxic and kill you if you have too much.

Researchers have done tons of studies on e-cigs and teenagers, and they have found that teens who smoke e-cigs are MUCH more likely to smoke regular cigarettes (and vice versa) and become addicted to those, too; six times more likely, to be exact. They are usually even associated with causing teens who are just experimenting with cigarettes to become regular, established smokers. Basically, they’re a gateway drug.

So if you think that e-cigs will help with your temptation to try regular cigarettes, or that they’ll help you quit smoking… think again. They’re really no different.

If you or a friend are smoking e-cigs, or regular cigarettes, here are some things you can do to quit:

  • Make a plan. If you are currently smoking 10 times a day, try to smoke one less time per day until you’re not smoking at all. Or, quit altogether. Sit down with someone who will help hold you accountable, have them help you make a plan to quit, and then stick to it.
  • Stay busy. When you feel a craving coming on, try to distract yourself by doing something else. You won’t smoke if you’re too busy doing something else. You can try things like going for a run, going to a movie with friends (who don’t smoke), painting a picture, or writing a story. Whatever you enjoy!
  • Keep focused on why you want to quit. Remember how much money your addiction has been costing you? Remember how you feel when you walk up a flight of stairs, or run at practice? Remember all the things that are unhealthy about smoking?
  • Get support. Tell your friends that you really do want to quit, and ask them to encourage you to stay strong whenever you get the urge. Ask a couple people if you can call or text them every time you get the urge, and they can help keep you accountable. Things like this are way easier when you don’t have to do it all yourself.
  • Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. This is a totally free hotline where professionals are available 24/7 to help you with your addiction. They can help you come up with a plan, give you tips on how to quit, and tell you all about WHY you should quit.

Smoking may seem “cool,” and e-cigs may appear to be a better alternative. But really, just take care of your body and stay away from them.