A new report released today by the Law Center and the National Network for Youth reveals a disturbing truth: 1.6 million youth experience homelessness without a parent or guardian each year, facing numerous barriers to meeting basic needs.
I’ve gotten used to calling the issues we work on “forgotten” or “unseen” crises. That can sound a little trite, but I don’t know how else to describe the media’s failure to cover homelessness, or the lack of public outcry in the face of human suffering. Here, again, I wonder: how can we be ignoring this?
The new report, Alone Without a Home, explains why these kids become homeless. Common causes include severe family conflict, parental abuse or neglect, a parent’s mental health issues, and substance abuse. Prior to leaving home, almost half of all unaccompanied youth report being beaten by a caretaker, while one out of four had caretakers request sexual activity.
It’s horrifying to think of any child being homeless—but to suffer through it alone? And even worse, to have become homeless because your parents didn’t care for you? I can’t imagine what that’s like. While the presidential and Congressional candidates rattle off their plans to address debt, taxes, and Iran, these kids are struggling every day to meet their most basic needs.
Alone Without a Home reviews current laws affecting unaccompanied homeless youth in all 50 states and 6 U.S. territories. Laws widely vary from state to state, and youth and community groups have a hard time clarifying their legal protections and eligibility for housing, health care, and education benefits. Moreover, many unaccompanied youth don’t seek out help because they assume they’ll be turned away, or even fear being taken into state custody.
Alone Without a Home recommends eliminating laws that criminally punish unaccompanied youth as “runaways” or “truants,” in favor of policies that divert them from court involvement. It also calls on states to expand access to housing, health care, education, and other stabilizing services. This includes allowing youth to contract for housing, receive medical treatment, and enroll in school without parental consent.
Laws are complicated. Sometimes they’re written poorly, and sometimes they’re applied wrong. What isn’t complicated is our responsibility as Americans to young people who need a helping hand. This report explains the problem and even offers solutions, but words on a page don’t put kids in the classroom. We have to take what we’ve learned and push our elected officials to address the unique needs of unaccompanied youth.
Te read the full report, click here.
– Andy Beres, Development & Communications Coordinator