Question – Why are there Homeless Teens?

This week’s topic is why are there homeless teens? But, do you know what today is? Besides Monday?

What is today?

Do you know what today is? It is the day we observe Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and is the MLK Day of Service.

The Martin Luther King, Jr., National Day of Service is an important moment each year when Americans across the country work together to make their community more equitable and work to bring Dr. King’s Dream to reality. According to the MLK.gov website, “Dr. King believed the Beloved Community was possible, he acknowledged and fought for systemic change. His example is our call to action.”

Today and everyday, work together with your teen to:

  • engage with your community to work to create a change for equality
  • act on Dr. King’s legacy of social justice
  • recommit by volunteering to serve others. Take a look online and in your community to find ideas for volunteering! Maybe even helping out at a homeless shelter.

What is Teen Homelessness?

In the United States, a homeless youth is someone who is under the age of 21 and is unable to safely live with a relative and has no other safe alternative living arrangement.

Youth homelessness is more common than you might think and doesn’t always mean young people living on the streets or in shelters. Homelessness also includes couch surfing or staying with friends or relatives, which is a temporary answer to what may be a long-term issue. Current estimates suggest that up to 2.5 million children in the United States face homelessness annually, yet an exact count is challenging.

According to a study on youth homelessness done by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, their Voices of Youth Count (PDF) reveals “a scenario of American youth homelessness in which a shifting population of young people uses temporary situations to get by when they cannot stay in a home of their own.”

Having a specific definition of homeless teen is important for federal funding and who can receive support from federally funded programs. Sometimes programs have a different definition of who is a homeless youth and whether they qualify for support or not. These different definitions create a problem for counting the actual number of homeless youths. And as a result, there is less shelter, housing and supportive services for this growing number of homeless people.

So, why do teens become homeless in the first place?

Homeless Teens on the street
Photo by Zac Durant via Unsplash

According to the National Network for Youth, the vast majority of youth do not become homeless by choice. For most youths, instability in their current living situation forces them out on the streets before they are adults. The following family experiences can lead to a youth finding themselves homeless

  • child abuse and or neglect
  • domestic violence
  • parental substance abuse
  • family conflict

Sometimes, teens or young adults are asked to leave their homes because of something they may or may not be doing. Maybe it is because they aren’t respecting their parents or using drugs after being asked to stop.

The reasons for teen homelessness is typically not a one sided issue. The causes for them to become homeless are sometimes not easy problems to solve, take hard work on both sides, and maybe need outside intervention to work out. It may seem like leaving home is the only option, but it may not be. Let’s start listening and understanding where they are coming from and see if we can work things out rather than having them live on the streets.

Youth homelessness includes many types of teens

Homeless teens come from many walks of life and become homeless for many reasons. Some of the teens who experience homelessness are

  • dealing with having a sexual preference that their parents cannot accept
  • becoming pregnant
  • running away from home because of an issue that their parent is having with addiction
  • Being asked to leave because they are not respecting their parents.
  • are involved in human trafficking.
Homeless Teen on city street
Photo by Ev via Unsplash

Changes in how our society is has created some of these situations. Like being more public about your sexual preference, thinking that being on the street is better than dealing with a bad situation at home, or being pulled away from your home against your will to be turned to prostitution or human trafficked. Many of the teens who find themselves dealing with these issues will need help to get their lives on track and become successful.

How do we deal with Teen and Youth Homelessness?

We need to find resources to help them. Youth and young adults need stable housing, supportive connections to caring adults, and access to mainstream services that will place them on a path to long-term success. Reunifying youth with family or a support system, when safe and appropriate, should be at the core of any approach.

These services need to be available for the teens who need them. Let’s not get caught up in definitions of who qualifies and who doesn’t. All teens should have a chance to be successful and should be able to have access to help needed to get there.

But like some of the other issues that teens face, open communication with their parents and caring adults could go a long way to reducing the numbers of teens who are homeless in the first place. But, both teens and adults in these cases must be open to listening to each other, make compromises and seek outside intervention where appropriate.

Talk to your teen about teens who may be homeless. Ask them if they have noticed a friend going through tough times with their living situation? Its important to let them know it’s okay not to have all the answers, but showing support and understanding can make a world of difference.

There are many organizations out there that are helping homeless teens. We will mention some of them in our resource posts on Instagram on Tuesdays. We also have some resources listed on our Resources page of the website.

The Street’s Way is coming in 2024

The Street's Way Cover - on bench
Photo by Sharon McAleer

Do you know about The Way Series? It is a series of coming-of-age novels for teens and young adults about the challenges they face. Coming this spring, The Street’s Way, the third book in The Way Series. It is a continuation of the storyline in books one and two, but also introduces a character who is running away from home and a bad situation.

Follow this link to my books tab to learn more about the series and to pick up your copies!

Selma’s Books.

Have a great week!

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