"I can remember being out walking around late at night, nothing to do, exhausted from a long day of walking, and I would see things that I thought I'd never have to experience. I never thought that one day I might be homeless in Seattle. It's a tough world when you are battling to stay alive on these district streets"
In a single night in January 2013, across the U.S. there were a total of 46,924 unaccompanied homeless youth, approximately 8% of the total homeless population for that night. Of them, 86% were 18-24 year-olds, and 13% were under the age of 18.
Homeless youth are a particularly vulnerable and invisible population because they are often unaccompanied by family, are runaways, or have been kicked out of the home by their biological or foster families. They might try to keep safe at night by riding the city bus, sleeping in locked porta-potties, or crashing on a friend's couch. Others may live on the street in groups with other homeless youth.
Homelessness is highly related to experiencing poverty, as well as prior experiences of homelessness or housing mobility. Homelessness contributes to increased school absences, higher school mobility, and poorer academic outcomes.
Unsurprisingly, homeless youth are also at higher risk of experiencing both physical and mental health problems such as asthma, gastrointestinal problems, depression, anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Furthermore, some estimates indicate that by the age of 12, more than 80% of homeless youth have witnessed at least one incident of serious violence, indicating that these youth may be struggling with the aftermath of traumatic experiences
Many of these youth have experienced abuse or neglect, and youth often report staying in abusive situations because of a lack of alternatives.
Despite these sobering numbers and chilling experiences endured by homeless youth, there is hope. Organizations and communities across the U.S. are working to provide homeless youth with short-term stability, an opportunity to cultivate life purpose and direction, and support for long-term health and wellness. Through this process of supporting youth as they face life challenges and work toward stability and success, communities can foster resilience in them.
One example of an organization working to build resilience in homeless youth is the Zine Project in Seattle. This organization provides a pre-vocational creative writing program for homeless youth in Seattle called "zines" (pronounced Zeens - like magazines). The program is run through a local youth drop-in center, and the goal is to enrich writing skills in youth to contribute to their future job success. The online repository of the poetry of homeless youth is an incredible window into the lives of these often-invisible adolescents.
In reading their stories, I came away thinking that their experience of homelessness does not make them irreparably broken. Thinking of homeless youth from a deficit model does them a severe disservice.
To paraphrase a quote from one of my favorite authors, John Green: (Looking for Alaska)
We need not be hopeless, because they are not irreparably broken.
These young people have skills, talents, abilities, strengths, and assets waiting to be recognized and nurtured. They are a veritable fountain of untapped potential. Those who work with youth who are homeless must recognize that potential, and provide youth with the opportunities to establish healthy long-term patterns for their lives.
which is part of the Extension Center for Family Development
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