Today's guest post comes from Youth Council Member Jessica Moyeda who recently attended the National Runaway and Homeless Youth Conference in Portland, OR, to help promote ReachOut.
November is best known as the month during which we celebrate Thanksgiving. The special time of year when we gather around the dinner table to gorge ourselves on turkey, stuffing (or dressing depending on your geography), and heaps of apple pie. It is also meant to be a time in which we give thanks for the blessings that we are fortunate to have. Can you think of some things you’re grateful for? Is it your family? Your boyfriend/girlfriend? That new cell phone?
Did any of you think of your home? In truth, a lot of us take having a warm bed, a fridge full of food, and a roof over our heads for granted.
Coincidentally, November is also known for being National Homeless Youth Awareness Month - and last week was the National Runaway and Homeless Youth Conference in Portland, OR. I had the privilege to attend this gathering of professionals and organizations, who are all dedicated to providing effective services to the country’s runaway and homeless youth. I learned of the challenges as well as the myths that surround the increasing number of teens and young adults that are without a home, and am going to share some of my newfound knowledge below.
In all honesty before this conference my knowledge of homelessness was extremely limited; my experiences with this population were restricted to requests for spare change, serving a few Thanksgiving dinners, and handing out power bars near freeways. Yet between visiting downtown Portland’s youth shelters, talking with multiple advocates, and hearing former homeless youth speak to this issue – it really hit me that a lot of homeless youth had never been given a proper chance to succeed or pursue their dreams. Many, if not all, teens and young adults want to make a change in their lives, but most of the time they cannot do it alone. They need support, opportunity, and hope – and shelters are instrumental in achieving this change.
The truth is that youth homelessness is an issue that doesn’t fit neatly into a pretty box. Each experience, each story, each challenge is unique and deserves our attention. Here are some of the facts that I took away from the conference:
- The National Alliance to End Homelessness, and even the federal government, estimates that there are 50,000 U.S. teens that “sleep on the streets” on any given day, but both organizations acknowledge that there may be as many as 2 million youth that are homeless throughout the year.
- Homelessness can take many forms: whether it be “couch surfing” with friends, hitching rides to new cities, living in public parks or spending nights at different shelters.
- The word runaway conjures images of a teenager rebelling against their overprotective parents or a lazy unwilling to work, but the reality is that there are often more serious reasons for a teen to leave their home. In fact, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found that 46% of homeless youth escaped a home where they suffered physical abuse, while 17% left because of sexual abuse. Many homeless youth leave their residence after years of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, and parental neglect. Disruptive family conditions are the principal reason that young people leave home.
- The economy also has a hand in youth homelessness: families suffering from the financial crisis may experience unemployment, low wages, a lack of medical care, and ultimately an absence of affordable housing. When a family becomes homeless, children and teens are in a precarious living situation, and sometimes are even separated from their families.
- Additionally, 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth self-identify as LGBTQ – which is relatively high when you consider that about only 10 percent of the youth population are LGBTQ. This trend is often the result of abandonment or family conflict.
- Homeless youth are at a significantly higher risk for anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and suicide. This is largely due to an increased exposure to violence while living by themselves.
You may be asking yourself what can I do to help?
Where can I learn more?
How can we end youth homelessness?
Youth homelessness – like all homelessness – is a problem that can be solved.
Do you have any experiences with youth homelessness?