Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Child-Youth Homelessness – Huge Increase in Children and Young Adults Seeking Shelter, Chicago and Across the Nation. What Can We, as a Nation, Do to Help?



The Chicago Tribune reports that calls to a youth homeless hotline are suggesting that youth homelessness is on the rise in Illinois – with some young adults sleeping in the streets, as very few shelters are currently available. The suggestion of root causes are:

Family issues, sharpened by continued economic stressors, are a major factor, too, they said. The No. 1 issue cited in calls to the runaway hotline is "family dynamics" at 29 percent.

Hamann said he's seen an increase in the number of youth coming from intact families at the youth programs The Night Ministry runs, including The Crib.

"In the past, we mostly dealt with runaways, throwaways or lockouts," Hamann said. "But when the recession hit, we started to see youths from intact (homes), with foreclosures. Some family shelters don't take adolescents, and they had to make the conscious decision to split up."


However, homelessness among our nations children has been increasing for some time – The National Law Center reported in June of 2012, that: “public schools reported more than one million homeless children and youth, according to data released today by the U.S. Department of Education.

The 1,065,794 homeless students enrolled by U.S. preschools and K-12 schools in the 2010-2011 school year is the highest number on record, and a 13 percent increase over the 2009-2010 school year. This total underestimates the number of homeless children, because it does not include homeless infants and toddlers, young children who are not enrolled in public preschool programs, and homeless children and youth who were not identified by school officials.

Forty-four states reported school year-to-year increases in the number of homeless students, with 15 states reporting increases of 20 percent or more. States with the largest increases in the numbers of homeless students include Kentucky (47 percent), Michigan (38 percent), Mississippi (35 percent), Utah (47 percent), and West Virginia (38 percent). The number of homeless children enrolled in public schools has increased 57 percent since the beginning of the recession (2006-2007 school year).”


The fact that we, as a nation, have children in the streets, speaks first to the breakdown of the family, secondly the quality of education – yes, the recession does play a role in this blight on our national treasure, but primarily the breakdown of the family unit, as a whole, appears to be the root cause.

During the 1890’s through Great Depression of the of the 1930’s there were homeless children, however, charities rose to the occasion, and attempted to help(Boston’s Wayward Children). The family unit tended to stay together, rather than break apart and leave children to fend for themselves. As society has evolved the prevalence of divorce and or children born out of wedlock find adolescents that are caught in between two biological parents, both of whom have remarried, with new families, living on the street – abandoned. This is not an affect of poverty as this crosses socio-economic lines – from lower to upper middle classes. There are those families that stay together, living in circumstances that can only be described as horrifying – those who suffer from mental illness, drug abuse, alcoholism, and have, either as a result of, or in general, lost employment and housing, find themselves and their families living wherever the law will allow – One might look towards local food pantries and shelters, but those services are stretched thin, especially in this eight plus years of economic malaise.

Those who find themselves in the street, living from hand to mouth become victims of, child slavery, or child prostitutes. They are far too young to have the ability to find work, and if they were old enough the lack of education and skills would not allow for meaningful employment to sustain adequate living conditions –if there were jobs available.

Government programs apparently have done little to stave off this problem, and those youth 19-21 years of age who are added to this dynamic (see Chicago Tribune) should, for all intents and purposes not be in the situations they find themselves. From a personal perspective, living as an emancipated minor in the early 1970’s, finding employment and continuing an education was a primary factor in survival. Finding adequate living arrangement (roommates), and support from church, friends and family members made the transition from desperation to independence an easier road.

There are services that are available, especially New York’s Covenant House, which is a shelter that offers a myriad of services to homeless youth, including pastoral care, education and job training.

Covenant House highlights the causes of Teen Homelessness – to learn more about the issues and ways in which one might be able to lend a hand: visit: www.covenanthouse.org.

Children are the nation’s national treasure, they should be the parent’s personal treasure, to hold and keep safe until such time as they are able to survive on their own. Sadly, more and more, this is not the case. It is unfathomable that over a million children do not have a home today – it is unconceivable. Making a donation to a local food pantry, either in cash and/or in goods, including food, clothing lends a helping hand, and may ensure a family with children stays together.

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