Examining the Federal Plan: Objective 8 –Youth Homelessness

written by naehblog
July 8, 2010

The new federal plan to end homelessness has set 10 objectives to guide us on the path to ending homelessness.

And the bait was just to good to pass up.

On the blog, we’ll examine each goal, what’s known, what isn’t, and what we’re going to do moving forward on that goal. We’ll call the series, “Examining the Federal Plan.”

This week we will be looking at objective eight, “Advance health and housing stability for youth aging out of systems such as foster care and juvenile justice”.

I myself am still learning a lot about the different kinds of homelessness, but the Alliance is chock full of people who are each a wealth of information and more than willing to help me learn. Since this objective has to do with youth homelessness, I thought this week I could do a post about youth homelessness in general, since it is an area of homelessness that often goes unseen.

To learn about youth homelessness, I talked to LaKesha Pope, Senior Youth Policy and Program Analyst.

Here are some of the questions I asked her and what I learned:

What causes youth homelessness?
Youth can become homelessness for many different reasons, many of them the same factors that cause other groups to experience homelessness. However, the major factors that usually contribute to youth homelessness are family dysfunction and breakdown, specifically family conflict, abuse, and disruption. Many youth enter a state of homelessness as a result of:
• Running away from home,
• Being locked out or abandoned by their parents or guardians,
• Running or being emancipated or discharged from institutional or other state care.

Another reason youth often become homeless is because of systems failure of mainstream programs like child welfare or juvenile corrections. These systems fail to address the needs of those leaving the programs, and consequently the youth end up homeless because they are not able to secure housing by themselves.

What does youth homelessness typically look like?
There are four general groups that homeless youth fall into, and it possible for them to move between groups.

• First-Time Runners – Youth in this group can usually be returned to their families or guardians.
• Couch Surfers – Very hard to identify. They use their social networks to find couches of friends or relatives to sleep on for one night or longer.
• Service Seekers – Those who seek shelter services, easier to identify since shelters are where counts are done. The most visible of homeless youth.
• Street-Entrenched Youth – youth who are on the street for six months or more.

There is no research to support the notion that homeless youths often come from homeless families.

Are there groups within the youth homelessness population that are particularly affected?
In urban settings, African American youth are disproportionately represented, and in rural communities, Native American youth are disproportionately represented.

LGBTQ youths increasingly make up a portion of the homeless youth population as well, often due to parents or guardians kicking the youth out due to their orientation, or due to abuse at home for said orientation.

Why is it hard to count youth homelessness?
Homeless youths are particularly difficult to count because they can blend in well. They often appear as students in most public places. Many youths also don’t consider themselves homeless, such as those who couch surf.

Why do youths aging out of foster care and other systems tend to become homeless?
Poor discharge planning.

Youths “aging out” of systems are disconnected and do not have social networks to rely on for assistance in finding housing or employment. They lack self-sufficiency skills and can often be affected by an emotional condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Systems are also ineffective at checking to make sure pre-arranged housing accommodations stick.

This is the group the new federal plan hopes to target specifically in an effort to end this problem.

How do we try and solve youth homelessness?
First, the same way we try and solve all types of homelessness: housing.

Beyond this, youth also need to be connected with adults that will help them, and given life skills development. One way to administer this is through youth housing continuum. To learn more about this and other applied solutions, take a look at our policy ad practice brief.

These were just a few of the question I asked, but already I could see a new side of the homeless population that needs to be addressed just as much as any other. If you want to know more, LaKesha gave me a great document that gives lots of information on youth homelessness. It’s a brief but illuminating read – four pages can tell you a lot of great information about youth homelessness. You can find it on our website, here.

If you have a question about youth homelessness or homelessness in general, or about the Alliance, ask us at our formspring, where you can see the answers to your question and many others. One of our goals is to help disseminate information about homelessness, so we are more than eager to answer any questions you might have.

Coming up next in Examining the Federal Plan – Systems Change.