Hidden along the streets corners of major urban cities and in the wooded terrain of rural communities, a hidden crisis threatens our nation’s future. Homeless, unaccompanied young adults struggle to survive and access basic resources. They age out of the foster care system, are ostracized from their communities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, or experience abuse in the home, only to find themselves with nowhere to go besides the streets. They fear revealing their sexual identity because of the potential risk of harassment and physical violence. They sell themselves and trade sexual favors for a place to sleep and a meal to eat. Youth homelessness is too often ignored by our nation’s political leaders and communities. In order to protect the next generation of Americans, we must call for a national commitment ensuring that every young person in this country has a safe place to sleep, and the necessary resources to build stronger, healthier futures for themselves and our country.
Emergency shelters provide the most immediate assistance for homeless individuals. A bed for the night protects a person from the elements, assault, and harassment. For unaccompanied homeless youth, however, accessing a shelter is extremely difficult. Only 4,000 youth shelter beds are currently available nationwide for the almost 500,000 young people who are homeless. The need far outweighs the resources available. The National Campaign for Youth Shelter calls for a federal commitment to provide all youths with immediate access to safe shelter, additional shelter beds for young people, and a more accurate effort to count the number of unhoused youth.
The lack of shelter beds and resources committed to ending youth homelessness reflects the absence of youth in the overall national discussion on poverty. As individuals experiencing homelessness endure increasing criminalization and anti-homeless policies, unaccompanied young people face an uncertain future that is heighten by barriers that might prevent them from completing their education or gaining access to sustainable employment. They struggle to find acceptance and encounter discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. They are running a race against poverty and homelessness. Society’s obstacles make this race seem unwinnable and the hope for a better future dwindles away.
The National Coalition for the Homeless and the Ali Forney Center brought together anti-poverty groups, LGBTQ organizations, and formally homeless young people this week for a convening on ending youth homelessness. We know that in order to eradicate homelessness for everyone, youth must be part of the conversation and part of the solution. Shelter beds help young people who are experiencing homelessness to access education, employment, and health services which helps them to build stronger and healthier futures. These better futures can all start with a safe place to sleep. It’s time to #Act4Youth!
Student Activist, National Coalition for the Homeless Intern