Young people becoming homeless is a serious problem in America. Referred to as “unaccompanied youth”, homeless youth lack parental care in their lives. It is said that on any given evening, there are about 1.3 million homeless young people out on the streets living without supervision. They live with friends, strangers or in abandoned buildings. Homeless and runaway youth are at an increased risk for substance abuse, sexual exploitation, physical abuse, mental health issues and death. It has been estimated that about 5000 young people die every year due to illness, assault or suicide.
In our current times, there has been an escalation in runaway and homeless youth. Sometimes young people run away from home due to economic reasons and other times they are kicked out of their homes. Exact numbers of homeless youth are hard to ascertain because of the lack of consistency and mobility of the homeless community.
We have learned from studies that:
- ¾ of runaway or homeless youth drop out of school
- One out of every seven youth from ages 10 to 18 will run away
- Nearly half of the youth that are runaways or homeless report being abused physically
- 40% report emotional abuse, and just under 20% say they were abused sexually
- From 6% to 22% of Homeless girls are pregnant
- Three out of every Four runaways are girls
- Young people from 12 to 17 are at a higher risk than adults for becoming homeless
Why Do Young People Become Runaways or Homeless?
There are many reasons why a teenager would run away. Some of the risk factors of homelessness that are especially applicable to kids formerly or currently in foster care are things like: teen pregnancy, attending a high number of schools, having a high number of foster care placements and mental health problems. Here are three common issues that can lead to youth homelessness:
- Family Issues. Many teenagers run away and end up becoming homeless because of issues at home. It could be parental neglect, addiction or substance abuse by a family member, sexual or physical abuse or mental health problems. Sometimes it’s just that they are kicked out of their homes because money is too tight.
- Foster Care Transitions. Young people who have been in the foster care system are at a much higher risk of homelessness at a younger age and to stay homeless for a longer time. Teenagers aging out of the system can sometimes have meager income and living choices making them more likely to end up on the streets.
- Economic Issues. When a family slips into an economic difficulty making housing less affordable, young people from the family can often become homeless with their families. They may also become separated due to the policies of shelters or because beds are limited.
Options to Help Curtail Homelessness Among Youth
- Programs for Early Intervention and Prevention. A homeless prevention program might include help with rent, counseling and services for family reunification.
- Intervention for Current Homeless Youth. Having access to certain services can help young people regain some structure in their lives. Helping them get employment and find housing they can afford would be two key areas to aid.
- Independent Living. Helping young people go from temporary shelter to a more long-term housing situation would be integral. Being able to have clothing, food and get counseling are vital things that would greatly benefit homeless youth. This could begin with a group home or a community transitional home. Programs for youth housing are less expensive than placements out-of-home like treatment centers or juvenile correction facilities.
- Better Transition Services. When a young person grows old enough to leave the foster care system or juvenile facility, he or she needs some help and care to live on their own and provide for themselves. Often how it goes right now is they are largely ignored once they leave.
Being aware of these issues and advocating for state and local legislation to help our youth are good ways to be part of the solution to our homeless youth population. Supporting charities that help our youth with a cash donation or with a car donation is another great way to help.
Here are just a few non-profit organizations that help young people and accept car donations: