15 years old, kicked out of the house, where am I to go? My mother couldn’t handle my rebellious behavior and didn’t tell me where to go or who to call. An all too familiar plight facing teens, forced to “couch surf” and take refuge in abandoned homes and on the street.
Teen homelessness is not like regular homelessness. For teens it is mainly not having a stable environment to call home. With teen homelessness it is a great deal of movement. Whether it is in and out of shelters or couch surfing at familiar places. Couch surfing is when teens have no other choice but to make the couch their bed wherever they find a place to stay. For many teens when asked if they are homeless they will say no. However, they identify it as living in the street, but it is more when they are not able to identify where they are living as their own home. In most cases teens become homeless due to running away, being kicked out of an unstable home environment, being abandoned by their families, involvement in public systems, and having a history of residential instability and disconnection.
Between 500,000 and 2.8 million youth are homeless within the United States each year. 40% of homelessness teens identify as LGBT. In shelters, LGBTQ teens face harassment, stigmatization, or abuse from peers and staff for being LGBTQ. These same homeless youth that identify as LGBTQ, often face high risk of conduct disorder, PTSD, and suicidal behavior. 21-40% of homeless youth have been sexually abused compared to 1-3% of the general youth population. 6-22% of homeless girls are pregnant. They either are pregnant and become homeless as a result of being pregnant, or face sexual abuse while being homeless and become pregnant. Homelessness puts teens at higher risk for physical abuse, sexual exploitation, mental health disabilities, substance abuse and death.
75% of homeless or runaway youth have dropped out of school. There are many educational barriers for homeless children. For example, the inability to meet enrollment requirements, lack of transportation, high mobility resulting in lack of school stability, lack of school supplies and clothing, lack of awareness and support from school staff, and poor health, fatigue and hunger. New York State introduced a bill to amend the education law. The bill would allow a homeless child to designate a public school as the child’s school of origin requiring the school district to provide transportation. This should reduce the number of student drop-outs due to homelessness.
Homeless teens face risk of becoming delinquents while being homeless. Many delinquent acts that homeless teens would take part in would be stealing, selling drugs, survival sex, and more as strategies to survive. After leaving juvenile placements teens face challenges as they reenter the community, home, and school/ workforce. As homeless teens try to return home they return to an unstable home setting, face a lack of family support, struggle to remain in school, lack the skills needed for employment, and experience a gap in behavioral health services. Most of these problems would lead youth to end up in a homeless situation again starting a cycle of teen homelessness and become a problem for them in their adult ages.
If you or anybody you know need help in the battle against teen homelessness there is help for you. Community Partnerships for Youth Empowerment provide services to help at risk teens. Service includes immediate access to shelter for youth under the age of 22, emergency resources such as food, clothing and hygiene, and referrals to other community agencies for specific needs. For more information call their hotline at 518- 265-8509, Monday through Friday from 9 am to 9 pm.