Youth experiencing homelessness seem to be drawn to our center. They often congregate there to cool off in the air conditioning, get some cold water and snacks, hygiene supplies, take a sink bath in our bathroom, use the free wifi to look up resources, apply for jobs, communicate with others, and make plans for the day. It’s almost like they use it as a home base.
I also think they come here because we remember their names. That’s important. We learn their stories, their fears, hopes, and hurts. They are seen, and for many, for the first time in a long time.
Tens of thousands of young people experience homelessness each year. On the streets, they face serious dangers. Young people often resort to sex work to make money for food, and many turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with the trauma or abuse they have experienced at home. We also hear these stories first hand.
More than half of homeless youth became homeless for the first time because they were asked to leave home by a parent or caregiver.
On average, the youth became homeless for the first time at age 15.
While on 7% of the total youth population identifies at LGBTQIA+ they account for over 40% of all homeless youth.
The average youth spent nearly two years living on the streets.
Fifty-three percent of youth were unable to access a shelter because it was full.
The types of service needs youth identified focused on meeting basic needs — access and challenges related to safe shelter (55.3%), education (54.6%), and employment (71.3%) — and basic supports like transportation (66.6%), clothing (60.4%), and laundry facilities (54.0%).
While homeless, 78.6% of participants had slept in an emergency shelter or transitional living program.
More than 60% of youth in the study were raped, beaten up, robbed, or otherwise assaulted while homeless; 14.5% of participants had been sexually assaulted or raped; 32.3% had been beaten up; 18.3% had been assaulted with a weapon; 40.5% had been threatened with a weapon; and 40.8% had been robbed.
Almost two-thirds of participants (61.8%) reported symptoms associated with depression and were at risk of experiencing clinical depression. Nearly 72% reported having experienced major trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse or witnessing or being a victim of violence, at some point in their lives.
In the sample group, 41.1% identified as Black or African American, 33.3% as white only, 25.7% as Hispanic or Latino/Latina, 21.7% identified as being two or more races, 3% identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.5% identified as Asian, and 0.2% identified as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
Fifty-four percent identified as male and 45.6% identified as female.
Nearly 30 % of participants identified as part of a vulnerable population.
At the time of the interview, 14.2% of the participants reported caring for children and 9.0% reported being pregnant.
Only 29.5% of respondents reported that they had the option of returning home.
We must do better. The systemic abandonment they experience it traumatic. More often than not the most effective first step is creating an environment free of judgment. Next, it’s likely housing, which is complicated if they are minors. One of the easiest ways to address the housing issue is to become a licensed foster caregiver and to let your agency/DCFS know that you want older kids.
A majority of foster caregivers want young children or babies. While we understand that, it’s these teens that rarely find or remain in adequate placement. So, they end up on the streets and age/or age out of the system. This cannot be acceptable to those of us who are called to love.
If you are interested in fostering older youth/teens, reach out to your local foster care agency and just begin exploring the idea. You don’t even have to commit to doing anything, just start looking into what it might look like to house and love an at-risk teen.