Homelessness is not a minor problem

As our Executive Director Neil Donovan said in a “Traveling with Neil” video recently, homelessness cannot be solved by targeting sub-populations. However, they may provide volunteers, spectators, and politicians with a multidimensional view or homelessness beyond what stigmas or preconceived notions exist.

All sub-populations of people who become homeless experience the same needs: affordable housing, living wages, and proper protection of their civil rights. This goes for homeless youth, especially. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness’ 2011 Report “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” the population of homeless children has increased by over a third since 2007, with the hardest hit areas being the rural South and California.

It’s no question that families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, especially since the recession. Along with family and all other growing kinds of homelessness, where does “youth” fit in?

Many educational statutes define a ‘child’ as being under the age of 18. Many children become homeless with their families. But another large group of under-18-year-olds find themselves homeless and with no family support.

Luckily there are many shelters and safe housing programs that do great work to ameliorate homelessness, although many define “youth” differently. Many youth shelters across the country, such as Aarti Hotel and El Rescate, can only hold youth until 24. The Homeless Youth Coalition classifies youth to a lesser range of 18-23 years old.  First Steps for Youth helps an even small youth range: 16-18 years old, including minors.

Still, after the age of 18, legal adulthood, a homeless person is still homeless. So where does youth end? Better yet, when does youth homelessness end?

I think those are the wrong questions. The right question is where does homelessness end? For a 17 year old,  we can combat homelessness by keeping them in school, giving them the resources to learning trade, helping them find and keep a job that pays a living wage, and making housing—both urban and rural—affordable. These are the same things that contributed to the 12% drop in homeless veterans last year. Why? Because they are proven to work for everybody.

Homelessness has many faces, and the youth of America are unfortunately among them. The good news is no new plans need to be drawn up specifically for the youth. We can still bring America home with housing justice, economic justice, and health care justice –by fulfilling the NCH mission statement:

To prevent and end homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights protected.

-Jose Morales, NCH Spring 2012 Intern

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