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Homeless Youth Facilitators and Barriers

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Published: Thu, 29 Jun 2017

When considering the problem of homelessness, we may think of the stereotypical skid row bums, drug addicts, or perhaps the mentally ill living on the sidewalks begging for change from passerby (Letiecq, Anderson, & Koblinsky, 1996). All people that are homeless do not live on the streets. Homeless people can be someone who stays with a friend or a family member, someone living in overcrowded conditions, someone living in poor conditions that may affect their health, someone living away from their loved ones because of certain conditions. Many of these people are youth who lacks proper shelter. Homelessness among young people is a major social concern in the United States. Youth homelessness is not a new phenomenon and it has become more and more severe over the years. We ask what youth homelessness is. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, “homeless youth are individuals under the age of eighteen who lack parental, foster, or institutional care” (2008). Homeless youth includes runaways, throwaways, and street youth. They are also referred to as “unaccompanied” youth (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2008).  Homelessness for youth has been an ongoing issue and is at greater risk due to the greater vulnerability due to the background factors related with their life style.

Homeless youth can be found anywhere throughout the U.S. and most of these youth are age 18 or below. Many of these homeless youth comes from low-income communities or from dysfunctional families. Although the prevalence of youth homelessness is difficult to measure, researchers estimate that about 5 to 7.7 percent of youth- about 1 million to 1.6 million youth, under the age of 18 experience homelessness each year (Pope, 2013). As an estimated report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the US Department of Justice, there are about 1,682,900 homeless and runaway youth (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009).  Children and youth identified as homeless by the Department of Education in FY2000, only 35% lived in shelters; 34% lived doubled-up with family or friends, and 23% lived in motels and other locations (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009). These children and youth may not immediately be recognized as homeless and are sometimes denied access to shelter or the protections and services of the McKinney-Vento Act (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009). Youth that are homeless can become this way for a variety of reasons.

Many youth become homeless as a result of family problems and financial difficulties. Some of the causes of homelessness are due to physical or sexual abuses, family that has a drug addiction, or because of parental neglect. Often the young people experience more than one of these factors in their homes. For example runaways usually leave their home without letting their parents or a legal caregiver know about their whereabouts. They often tend to have a history of hardship in school and behavioral problems with other peers. Children from families that have always been poor are likely to be worse off than children in families that experience sudden hardship due, for example, to the recession and foreclosure crisis (NCSL, 2103).  Parents are the majority of the time a primary reason these youth becomes homeless.

A dysfunctional family can be one of many reasons why these youth would leave their home. The youths become homeless due to some disruptions of their families caused by divorce. If the families break up, the youths are forced to search for new places to live and this becomes very difficult for them. They may lack suitable places to go or stay as they may lack the required funds. The number of homeless youth has been growing and it has become a serious problem in our society. In a study, 46% of runaway and homeless youth had been physically abused and 17% were forced into unwanted sexual activity by a family or household member (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2007). Some of these young people becomes homeless when their families suffers financial crisis resulting from lack of affordable housing, no job opportunities, no medical insurance or inadequate welfare benefits.  They are not only in need of money, but they are also in need of attention and support.

Youth homelessness face gets involve in a high-risk survival behaviors in order to meet their basic needs. Youth on the streets fall prey to substance abuse, develop mental illness, and victimization. Young homeless people are most likely to have high-risk behaviors in such like engaging in unprotected sex, having multiple sex partners and gain access to substance abuse. Some of the homeless youth are forced to involve themselves in prostitution in order to obtain their daily bread and survival. For instance, they participate in unsafe sex in the exchange of basic necessities such as food, shelter and money. This is so because the greater percentage of the youths is sexually active at the average age of thirteen and fourteen years.  Homeless youth use prostitution as ways to survive, in which it can cause lots of unwanted pregnancies. Chronic health conditions, including asthma, other lung problems, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, diabetes, hepatitis, or HIV/AIDS, are prevalent among homeless youth (Pope, 2013). To obtain money, food, or a place to sleep, homeless youth may panhandle or resort to extreme measures such as theft, drug sales and abuse, prostitution, or survival sex (Pope, 2013). Homeless youth can also become mentally unstable.

Mental health problems may develop as a result of violence or other trauma experienced while homeless (Beharry, 2012). Homeless youth can be face with traumatic and stressful events which can cause them to be in constant fear or become mentally unstable. They have a greater risk of severe anxiety and depression, suicide, poor health and nutrition and even low self-esteem. Drug and alcohol use are often seen by homeless youth as “self-medication” for depression and other mental health issues, as a social outlet for connection with peers, or as an otherwise adaptive coping strategy for survival on the streets (Christiani, Hudson, Nyamathi, Mutere, & Sweat, 2008). These mental problems can or most likely interfere with their activities such as learning and communicating in school.  Homelessness can lead to an interruption of their education and therefore affects their future ability to live comfortably and independently. These youth that lacks education can set them to experience severe financial and emotional challenges as not being able to secure any employment in the United States of America. The presence of uneducated and unemployed homeless youths affects the development processes of the societies.

Homelessness can affect their educational opportunities for future success. Homeless children and youth who are able to enroll in school still face barriers to regular attendance: while 87% of homeless youth are enrolled in school, only 77% attend school regularly. (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009). Youth that are from families who are struggling seems to move around a lot in search of something that is affordable for them such as housing and for employment. These children or youth experiences changes of school messes up their education because their family has to find a place where shelter is affordable for them. According to the Institute for Children and Poverty, homeless children are nine times more likely to repeat a grade, four more times more likely to drop out of school, and three times more likely to be placed in special education programs than their housed peers (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009).  Homeless youth need access to services that will help them regain stability in their lives, such as obtaining a job and affordable housing.

What does homeless youth need? They would need housing which includes shelter, transitional living programs, and supportive housing that is permanent for youth with mental illness. Homeless youth benefit from programs that meet immediate needs first and then help them address other aspects of their lives.  States can provide homeless youth with access to educational outreach programs, job training and employment programs, transitional living programs, and services for mental health and life skills trainings (NCSL, 2013). There are many programs run by government and voluntary organizations that are aimed to help homelessness by providing advice, financial support, a place to stay and other assistance. There are programs such as housing subsidy, local or federal government assistances. When there is no shelter it becomes a problem for these youth.

A lack of affordable housing and limited scale of housing assistance program have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009). Income and housing-related factors continue to play a significant role in the growth of homeless families (Anderson & Koblinsky, 1995). When parents cannot provide for their kids, these youth are also affected as well. Housing is the key to ending homelessness to help these young people and their families. There are only a small percentage of all homeless youth that seek shelter (Pope, 2013). There are ways to help house these youth. Youth housing programs include group homes, residential treatment, host homes, shared homes, youth shelters, and community-based transitional living programs (NCSL, 2013). As according to LaKesha P. Pope, there are the five strategies to house homeless youth (2013):

  • Develop stable housing without time limits specifically designed to meet the needs of youth which link services for future independent living.
  • Include set-aside unites for youth in existing or newly developed mainstream affordable housing.
  • Allow youth to be integrated into the local Continuum of Care planning and implementation process and as consumers of affordable housing stock.
  • Market housing resources in places where youth will see them.
  • Educate private landlords about the special needs of homeless youth and the existence of programs willing to offer supervision and assistance to youth tenants.

These strategies can bring in some positive attitudes to these youth when they know that there is some kind of help or assistance that is set up. What homeless youth need the most is a home. Programs are out to help these youth but it can be a challenge to get the services.

It can be a challenge for homeless youth to find help and assistance shelters. They can lack transportation to get to their destination for help. Many youth feel that agencies favors are usually with people who need help the least. Connecting youth to resources is a critical service and especially when a program that lacks funding to provide shelters. A barrier that homeless youth can experience in accessing housing are (Pope, 2013):

  • No rental history
  • Age discrimination
  • No job or not enough income to afford market-rate rents
  • Lack of standing to sign lease
  • Trouble with mobility due to few public transportation options
  • Exposure to domestic violence, sexual assault and adults who solicit youth for illegal activity in exchange for housing
  • Teen parents
  • Past abuse and trauma resulting in mental or cognitive disabilities
  • Failure to find housing with proficiencies in various youth cultures

Youth often find themselves homeless because of family breakdowns, system failures, and marginal resources (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2013). Homeless youth who are not able to live with their families, other options should be made available for them to contribute and take care of themselves. However, we cannot change how people treat their youth, but we can try to change the outcome of a youth’s life. There are many risks that these youth can face being on the streets with no shelter or help. Some youth may never want to find help or look for assistance but we as human service worker, should try to reach out the best we can.


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