Youth Homelessness

Published By: Shafiqul Bhuiya

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Homelessness can be a difficult experience for many individuals caught in its grip. However, homelessness can be even more detrimental to youths, which include children and young adults. Annually, there may be as many as 4.2 million youths who experience homelessness. Of that number, almost 700,000 youths are considered unaccompanied minors, meaning they are not accompanied by a family member or parent/guardian. At any point in time, there may be as many as 41,000 unaccompanied youth who are experiencing homelessness. This younger population of homeless individuals are varied in their demographics and reasons for homelessness. Additionally, this younger population faces unique challenges and dangers specific to their population. The distinct backgrounds and challenges that characterize the youth homeless population necessitates innovative and varied solutions to tackle the issue of youth homelessness.

The youth homeless population is made up of varying demographics, with many different groups having higher incidences of homelessness than the general population. The Voices of Youth Count from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that youth that had less than a GED level education, are parenting, or are unmarried had higher rates of homelessness. Furthermore, those who identified as Black, Hispanic, or part of the LGBTQ+ community were at much higher risks of experiencing homelessness. Research shows that LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to experience homelessness than their heterosexual peers. Furthermore, research has shown that, compared to the general population, Black or African American youth have an 83% higher risk of being homeless, while Hispanic youth have a 33% higher risk.

The reasons as to what causes youth homelessness is as varied as the demographics that make up this population. One of the most commonly cited reasons of youth homelessness is familial issues. The reasons for family discord may arise due to the youth’s sexual orientation, sexual activity, pregnancy, school problems, and substance abuse. This disruption in family harmony may cause the youth to run away from home, leading to homelessness. Furthermore, runaway youths may be fleeing harmful familial environments such as conflict, abuse, neglect, and poverty. In addition to familial reasons, many youths who were part of the foster care or child welfare systems have a higher incidences of homelessness after leaving the system. For example, 12% to 36% of youths who leave the foster care system, end up experiencing homelessness. Moreover, youths who come from a background of financial instability and familial homelessness, are more prone to be homeless themselves.

The challenges that the youth homeless population face are unique and varied. Compared to the general population, they are much more prone to suffer from mental health issues and substance abuse disorders. Furthermore, due to young individuals still growing and developing, they are much more prone to certain types of challenges. They usually enter homelessness with little to no work experience, severely limiting their employment opportunities, and in turn their ability to escape homelessness. They are often forced to delay or quit their educational development, which again may lead to poor economic outcome. Finally, the youth homeless population experience high levels of criminal exploitation, including sexual exploitation and labor trafficking.

There are resources available to the youth homeless population that they can take advantage of. For example, The Runaway and Homeless Youth Program (RYHP), is a major federal program that is comprised of different components that provides temporary shelter, long-term housing, education, treatment and counseling.  Additionally, there are local services specific to the community level such as the Covenant House here in Florida. Through their various programs, Covenant House Florida provides low-barrier housing, nutritious lunches, hygiene products, educational services, as well as many others services that support the youth homeless population. However, the youth homeless population also face unique barriers to their support. Due to differing and insufficient federal definitions, the actual number of homeless youths may be severely undercounted. This may lead to a lack of critical funding for homeless youth programs as well as many homeless youths being turned away from critical services.

The sheer number of young people that experience homelessness is alarming. Moreover, the unique challenges they face can be extremely daunting for anyone, especially developing young minds. What is needed to tackle this problem are accurate definitions, increased funding, as well as targeted solutions specifically designed for their unique challenges. Youth homelessness is a complex problem, requiring innovative solutions with the goal of one-day ending youth homelessness altogether.

About the author
Shafiqul Bhuiya
Shafiqul Bhuiya is a Bangladeshi-American from Bronx, New York. He has graduated with a Masters in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Central Florida and aspires to become a Physician Assistant. He is currently working as a Molecular Technologist in Infectious Disease testing. Shafiqul enjoys exercising, playing video games, and volunteering with Project Downtown Orlando during his free time. He believes in the power of proper healthcare and the hope it can bring to people in need.

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