I find it a bit unnerving that the United States Congress declared November as a National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. This declaration was made in 2007, which tells me that evidently the homeless youth were so marginalized that the general public needed to be more aware of the problem, or the problem has grown so much that a declaration of sorts needed to be made so maybe more people would help work on a solution.

Certainly there are more variables to the reasons for the congressional declaration, and I do like to be on the positive side of the American tradition for giving aid where needed. We are known world-wide for our generosity. It's just downright appalling to have so much homelessness in this great country. It's barely tolerable to know that homeless youth statistics show that they are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. That is families with children. National statistics cite more than 1.5 million homeless youth.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) says, "Many homeless youth-in addition to losing their home, community, friends, and routines as well as their sense of stability and safety-may be victims of past trauma. While trying to survive on the streets, youth are exposed to countless dangers, with an increased likelihood of substance abuse, early parenthood, impulsivity, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and a vulnerability to being trafficked."

Just what are the main causes of the past trauma spoken of? According to the National Coalition for the Homeless there are three main reasons for youth homelessness:

  1. family problems
  2. economic problems
  3. residential instability.river life

All 3 can be broken down further. Family problems could be from abusive adults living in the home. Economic problems could mean under-employment, un-employment, or death of the income bearer (s). Residential instability could include family and economic problems - perhaps the household has to move frequently to evade further abuse, or try to remain in an affordable house.

The principal causes for families with children homelessness are:

  1. poverty
  2. underemployment
  3. lack of affordable housing.

No matter what the direct problem or homeless cause is, the effects of homelessness are a great cost to the social, physical and moral environment of all.

Youth living on the streets are subject to survival sex, substance abuse, criminal behavior, and a greater risk for AIDS, and pregnancy. They usually can't attend school because there is no legal guardianship or residency records. A high anxiety/depression level is attributed to homeless youth, too. These and more serious results from homelessness (more likely to become juvenile delinquents and do time in jail or prison), put a stress and a search for a solution on the non-homeless.

StandUp for Kids is a non profit coalition aimed at decreasing youth homelessness. Their mission is, "The mission of StandUp For Kids is to help homeless and street kids.
We do this, every day, in cities across America. We carry out our mission through our volunteers who go to the streets in order to find, stabilize and otherwise help homeless and street kids improve their lives.
Our focus goes beyond street outreach and extends to deterrence and resource programs that we provide in schools and via the internet. But all facets of our mission are guided by the mandate that our volunteers shall tell kids they care about them and then, at every point, prove it." The website has ways to volunteer, donate and sponsor the program. Moving testimonials and videos are also shown.

On a governmental level the HUD program is a homeless assistance program with funding that many of us see in our own communities. It is a good idea to check out the HUD Homeless Assistance web page to get through some of the red tape. There is also a US Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs that together provides resources for homeless youth. More information can be found at FindYouthInfo.gov.

A lack of housing represents a problem stemming from:

  • choice (freedom to not be tied down to one place)
  • an overburdened public mental health system breakdown
  • cuts in federally subsidized housing programs
  • inability of public assistance benefits to keep pace with cost of living increases.

The underlying fact remains that homelessness stems mostly from poverty. "Homeless people are the poorest of the poor. They include single-parent families, and, occasionally, two-parent families. They are people who work but who earn too little to afford housing. They are women and children escaping from domestic violence. They are runaway youngsters or youngsters who have been thrown out. they are unemployed people - some who are looking for work, and some who have never worked. The homeless include retired people on small fixed incomes, many of whom have lost their cheap SRO hotel rooms to gentrification; school dropouts; drug addicts; disabled and mentally ill people lost in a maze of outpatient services . . ." (see footnote).

In retrospect, maybe it is good that we have a National Homeless Youth Awareness Month in November, in the United States. My research for this article clarified the myriad aspects to this sad problem, and enlightened me on current solutions, and how to help.

footnote - American Social Welfare Policy A Pluralist Approach, by Howard Jacob Karger, and David Stoesz (pgs 453-454)
photo credit - mine