Youth Homelessness in the United States

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Imagine having to live on the streets, in unbearable conditions, never knowing what it is like to be in a stable environment. This presents many challenges faced by children as young as a few months old. These challenges are faced by some of the more than 500,000 children (Bass 2017). These children do not have anywhere to call home and very little resources to help them a place to live. These numbers of homeless youth are increasing making it harder to accompany and house these children.

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While the number of homeless youth is increasing, more homeless shelters are being created, more social interaction between homeless youth is occurring, and help for abused homeless youth is being made more available.

Many demographics of homeless youth exist. In 2012-13 the U.S. Department of Education documented more than 1.2 million homeless students in the nation’s public elementary, middle and high schools (Wertheim and Rodriguez 2014). This means that youth of all ages are becoming or are already homeless in America. What a scary thought to think that anyone around you, in your school could be homeless and no one would even know it. It is often hard to even distinguish homeless students from non homeless students because appearances can be very deceiving.

With the rising population of homeless youth, homeless shelters are finding it harder than ever to occupy all of these children. Still, the shelter was scary All night long, I heard yelling and fighting. I couldn’t stay another minute. says Kyle Kubaska (DiConsiglio 2007). Homeless shelters are often overcrowded, and loud, which does not help homeless children to feel safe and secure. It is so difficult for families and their children to get a spot in a shelter. Many shelters even have an occupancy level they will not go over due to the lack of supplies the shelter may have. Beds may also not be available for these youth causing many of them and their families, to have to sleep on the streets.

With the lack of space for homeless youth, comes the increase in social services for them. Those developments are occurring at the same time the social services continue a significant expansion on the street to centralize resources for the homeless and others and meet growing demand by single women and children. (Nishimura 2014). Social work is helping these families get back on their feet. Social workers help people in need by giving them resources to help them out of their situations.

Youth Homeless shelters are becoming scarce in the United States. Estimates of the number of youths who run away or are homeless in the United States range from 450,000 to as many as 2.8 million every year (Greene 1997). With this number comes a need for more shelters. Homeless shelters feed, and house homeless youth, families, and more. They are a place to stay especially in harshly cold or hot temperatures. Staff and non profits are helping create more homeless shelters for homeless and runaway youth, but it takes a lot of time. In 1974, Congress enacted the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which provides support for shelters and Transitional Living Programs (Greene 1997). This was a huge advancement for homeless teenagers across the country. The Runaway and Homeless Youth act also made it possible for these small organizations and shelters to continue what they are doing and increasing their budget.

This act did not increase the size of these shelters though. Occupancy has been high in these shelters for a long time. So with the rising number of youth and their families who must spend the night in the shelters, there becomes less space. Most of the shelters only receive funding from state and local governments and private sources (Greene 1997). The funding given to the shelters is often not enough to expand the shelter, it may just provide more food and supplies.

Homeless youth are not being well educated. The number of homeless teenagers and children attending school is very low. In Tacoma , Washington a program known as the McCarver Elementary School Special Housing Program was created (Blad 2014).The programs often involve collaboration between public and private entities that don’t typically work together, such as schools, health-care providers, and social service groups (Blad 2014). This program gave housing opportunities for homeless families in the Tacoma area. In the Tacoma pilot, 50 families with children who attend the 28,000-student district’s McCarver Elementary School agreed to keep their children enrolled in the high-poverty school for as long as they participate in the program, to become more involved in their children’s education through parent-teacher conferences and volunteering at the school, and to work with caseworkers on a plan to improve the education and employment of adults in the household (Blad 2014).

The McCarver Elementary School Special Housing Program gave kids the want to push them to get a higher education. A positive of this program was also that the parents of the children at McCarver Elementary School who were homeless helped their kids achieve greater academic goals which would further help them to get off the streets. Education was lacking in many homeless youth but with initiatives like this, new doors are opening for homeless children and their families.

Housing for homeless youth is not very abundant. Yes, shelters are an option but there is always the possibility they could be full. Different organizations and nonprofit groups are helping to create housing for these kids. With fundraisers and benefit auctions these nonprofits must make money to create new housing options for the homeless. The majority of the population of homeless youth are spending their nights on the streets. They are either living in tents or on benches in parks or near rivers. These families must sleep in harsh temperatures with barely enough resources.More than a third (37 percent) of homeless families nationally have been homeless more than once (Nunez 1999). This means that these people living on the streets have done it many times before, which never teaches their children what it is like to be in a stable environment.

The main reason that these families end up on the streets are the loss of jobs, and unqualification to rent or own a house. Forty-three percent of homeless parents have never rented or owned their own residence (Nunez 1999). With this percentage shows that these parents are unqualified to have a place to call home. Many times these families do not want to bring their children to an abandoned building, where they could stay, and would rather just stay on the street.

There is a large difference between homeless youth and runaway youth. A runway is commonly defined as a youth under 18 years of age who leaves home without parental consent for at least 24 hours. A runaway may also be “pushed out” of his/her home, or removed from his/her current, intolerable living situation by child protective services (Kurtz and Kurtz 1991) .Many children who runaway are not with their families, they left their home due to an underlying cause. Homeless children normally are with their families who may have lost their job or lost all their money. Children runaway mainly due to some type of abuse inflicted on them by a parent or family member. Children born into a homeless family had no choice to become homeless, they were brought into this world living on the streets.

Many youth that runaway have had a traumatic experience and felt like running away would fix their problems. This is almost never the case. These children must find a place to sleep and find services to help them get back on their feet. One of the main causes for children to runaway is abuse. There are three different types of abuse, sexual , physical, and emotional. Children suffering with either one are often scared for life and are not often able to confront their assaulter. Parents are mainly the inflictors of this pain, thus the reason homeless youth want to leave their homes.

Emotional abuse has horrible effects on homeless youth. Parents threatening to divorce, or blaming their divorce on their children is a huge emotional scar. Runaway children that become homeless often blame themselves for the trauma they have endured. Even homeless youth already on the streets can experience emotional abuse. Examples of this can range from a parent abusing drugs, to a parent losing all their money. This takes a toll on the children being affected by it.

Often times children from homes where fighting between parents is constant, leave their home in search of a better life. This is mostly false as the outside world is rough for a struggling homeless teenager. LGBTQ teenagers are often the most emotionally abused of them all. If they come from strict or conservative religious families their parent often times will not accept them for who they are, which leads them to runaway from home. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) homeless youths face the obstacle of survival on the streets as well as the stigma of sexual minority group membership(Cochran 2002). This demographic often faces more challenges on the streets than non LGBTQ youth. Many of the population living on the streets are either homeless or runaways who left the shame from their parents behind them.

LGBTQ youth face even more challenges than a heterosexual homeless youth. Among adolescents in general, GLBT youths are more vulnerable to health and psychological problems than are heterosexual youths(Cochran 2002). They face a stigmatism put on them from the press and media. In many cases they came from abusive households who pressured them to leave due to their sexuality. Many are victims of parental physical abuse, are substance abusers, and have both mental and general physical health problems (Cochran 2002). This means that many of them were abused by their parents which caused them to runaway.

Another type of abuse homeless youth face is physical abuse. This type of abuse occurs when a child is physically assaulted leading to horrible effects. They often become untrustworthy of the people in their lives and the surroundings. The physically abused were significantly more likely to experience the family maltreatment problems of domestic violence and neglect by a parent figure(Kurtz and Kurtz 1991). This abuse almost always is inflicted by a close family member like a mom or dad.

Compared with nonabused homeless youth and abused runaways there was very little in common between the two. The abused children had many more problems in life and on the streets than that of the nonabused children. The physically abused and nonabused runaways did not differ regarding problems in school. Approximately 25-30% of the youth in both groups had problems in relationships with teachers, underachievement, and unruly behavior (Kurtz and Kurtz 1991). This was almost the only thing the two demographics had in common. Other than that the two groups lived completely different lives, but the two groups were still living on the streets.

Sexual abuse is another type of abuse faced by many homeless youth. Like physically abused youth, many sexually abused children often runaway or become homeless due to their parents influences on them. Sexually abused runaways reported more personal problems than did the sexually nonabused (Kurtz and Kurtz 1991). With these problems comes emotional hardships faced by the homeless victims of sexual assault and abuse. Depression runs very high in people who have had an experience where they were sexually abused. A child’s only chance to get away is oftentimes to runaway and leave their life behind because of their abuser.

These children who must face these experiences become cases of social workers and live in shelters with many other homeless youth who faced the same problems as them. Sexually abused children do not have nearly as many problems within their families, which is good. This is because their abuser is often times a distant family member who they have not seen often. That is how it is so easy for them to not get caught. There was a highly significant relationship between sexual abuse and suicide this is because their problems are often inescapable (Kurtz and Kurtz 1991).

Homeless youth are not people to be scared of, they are just like anyone else, their situations are different. Many new ways in trying to help the numbers of homeless youth to decrease are being created. This is especially present due to the increase in the creation of youth homeless shelters which allow these children and their families to get off the street. Social work is also becoming much more available for homeless youth and homeless families to get back up on their feet. Help such as therapy is also being made more available for abused homeless youth. With much more help from civilians, nonprofits, and organization the number of homeless youth could drop to zero.

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Youth Homelessness in the United States. (2019, Sep 08). Retrieved from