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Ending youth homelessness through federal policy reform
June 27, 2011
Today’s guest post comes to us from Alliance intern Rricha Mathur.
On June 17, I attended the Voices of Youth briefing held at the Capitol. A group of student panelists, who were and continue to be affected by homelessness, lead a stimulating conversation in which they shared their stories of homelessness, perseverance, and triumph. Currently, each speaker is enrolled in a university program. Their stories underlined that there is a lot Congress can do to help them and the millions of other youth affected by homelessness.
Some of the common struggles relayed in the heartbreaking stories by the panelists are basic and can be alleviated through federal policy. For example, many of the panelists suffered from physical and mental abuse by their parents and relatives and were thrown out of their homes. Once on the street, the young men and women struggled to find food, housing, and stability. They found barriers to food stamps due to eligibility criteria and oftentimes could not locate housing because they couldn’t put down deposits or show a credit history. Policy aimed at giving these young men and women better access to shelters and welfare programs would help their situations tremendously.
Furthermore, these students’ testimonies emphasized that education is an essential asset for homeless youth. Education was one of the major avenues these students used to create better futures. The students turned to teachers, coaches, and counselors for the guidance they lacked at home, and they pushed themselves academically to get into college. More funding and resources should be devoted to schools to help counsel and provide opportunities for motivated low income and disadvantaged youth so they can pull themselves up out of the cycle of homelessness.
Finally, the panelists shed light on the issue of child welfare home visits. They discussed in detail that the workers that came to their homes were not interested in what the youth had to say and that oftentimes their parents “staged” the home to make it appear that everything was fine. Reforming the way visits are conducted and how often they are done may help the affected youth be heard and have a more positive childhood experience.
Although the young men and women I met seemed well-adjusted and optimistic, there are too many others who we never hear from, young men and women whose homelessness turned into less triumphant stories. Those are the stories that we can turn around with smart, compassionate federal policy.
For more information about youth homelessness, please check out our website.