Focus Question: What is the background of teen homelessness, and how can teens help resolve it?Prior to exiting the home, 21%-42% of runaway and homeless youth have been sexually abused. (“Sexual Abuse among Homeless Adolescents”) How can we let this happen? Youth homelessness is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of kids each year in America. There are many causes of homelessness ranging from teen recklessness to child abuse. It is a very difficult problem to solve, and it requires action on every causing factor, which will take continuous work. This issue may be ever present due to its unending causes and factors, but we can work to reduce it.` Over the past century or so the views of homeless or runaway youth have changed drastically, ranging from a social outcast to a victim of the economy. In 1929 The Great Depression fell onto America. The stock market plummeted, and jobs became increasingly difficult to find when unemployment had risen from 8 to 15 million (The Great Depression and The New Deal). According to an article from George Washington University, suicide rates had elevated from 14 to 17 per 100,000 (The Great Depression).  At this point in time, runaways and homeless youth were generally seen as an aftereffect of the economic crash. Another piece of history that affected the views on runaway and homeless youth was the Hippie Movement. In the 1960’s, the hippie movement blossomed, it was a movement whose population mainly consisted of youth. They believed in the slogan “Make love, not war.”, which supported their ideals of peace and acceptance. Parents throughout the United States feared for their children’s futures in life. School-age hippies would normally drop out of school, “finding themselves” by using psychedelic drugs such as marijuana or LSD. They referred to non-hippies as “squares”, which was their term for a law follower. (The Hippie Movement) Runaways and homeless youth were generally seen as delinquents and troublemakers, (Runaways-history) which essentially they were. Hippies were changing the social norms and fighting the culture of that time.Currently, the views of homeless and runaway youth have changed drastically. In our culture, runaways and homeless youth are viewed as victims of maltreatment or injustice. The main causes for homelessness is abuse or neglect, LGBT+ family or community rejection, abandonment or disownment, economic struggle, mental health issues, foster care or welfare involvement, or family dysfunction (Homeless and Runaway Youth). These all can fall into two different key subgroups. The fact that there is a large amount of family and community issues related to abuse, rejection, and dysfunction needs to be addressed. As well as the issue of mental health, which can gravely affect anyone, but more drastically youth involved with foster care. Approximately 80 percent of children in foster care have mental health issues, compared to 18-22 percent of the general population (Mental Health and Foster Care). The mental health of America has also declined since President Ronald Reagan signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, it was advertised as a law to allow mentally ill to seek treatment outside of the governmental clinics, but it’s real purpose to was to cut down the federal bill (Ronald Reagan). It overruled Jimmy Carter’s presidential commission on mental health which was created to improve the mental health programs in the US and targeted the groups that previous laws had missed, as well as those affected by severe mental illnesses  (Public Policy and Mental Illnesses). There are many programs in place to help these youth currently, which is a welcome change to the critical views of the past. As one of the ten wealthiest states in the US (Wealthiest States), the statistics of California’s homeless may shock you. As of 2016, California houses 21.48% of the United States’ entire homeless population (State Data). From 2015 to 2016 California’s unaccompanied young adult (Ages 18-24) homeless count increased by almost 9%, from 9,524 to 10,375 (State Data) According to data sourced from national surveys and population evaluations, the California Homeless Youth Project estimates that around 200,000 minors are homeless for a day or more each year in California alone.In a single year, the United States can house around 1,682,900 displaced youth (Homeless Youth). Although any teen can be at risk, certain groups can be especially prone being included in this statistic. One of the main groups affected is the LGBT+ community, it has been shown that around 40% of the entire youth population is included in this estimate (America’s Shame). Of those teens, 68% percent said that familial rejection was a factor in their situation, and 54% said that abuse was a large cause of their homelessness (America’s Shame).The causes of youth homelessness can range drastically, but some tend to be more common than others. 75% of homeless youth are female (Homeless and Runaway), or roughly about 1.2 million each year, out of those it is estimated that 6-22% are pregnant (Homeless and Runaway). 46% of homeless youth reported physical abuse, and 17% had been made to participate in unwanted sexual activity by a family or house resident. This can’t keep happening.Although being homeless, or running away may appear like a bad thing, sometimes there are profits from running away. In many severe cases of abuse or neglect, running away is the better option for some youth. Running away can provide the only escape from physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, as well as bullying or neglect. Running away is traditionally seen as a “bad” thing, but although it provides an escape from dangerous situations, doing so puts yourself in a very dangerous situation. Youth who run away are more prone to high-risk behaviors, including joining gangs, doing drugs, as well as severe mental conditions such as anxiety and depression, which often leads to suicide. They are also prone to poor health and self esteem. (Runaway and Homeless Youth) Survival sex is very commonly performed for food, shelter, money, or drugs. According to a study done of homeless youth in 2000, approximately 28% of street youth, and 10% of shelter youth had performed survival sex. Education is also very difficult to maintain, 75% of homeless youth have dropped out, or are planning to drop out of school (Homeless and Runaway).Neither is necessarily a “good” or “bad” choice. It all depends on your individual circumstances. If someone is in an immediately dangerous situation, it is a good idea to leave the environment as quickly as possible. But one has to consider the outside conditions, such as if there gangs in the local area. It is very important for school education on this topic, such as places to go, and who you can call for support. Being homeless is almost never an ideal option, but leaving a dangerous situation with knowledge of a safe and supportive environment is much better than being at risk in your home.There is a long history of efforts to resolve this issue in the United States, but shifts in power and law have upturned large amounts of progress. Many federal and local organizations are working on this issue. Some of the past laws passed in order to lessen the amount of youth homeless are as follows. In 1974 the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was created, its goal was to construct” a unified national program to deal with juvenile delinquency prevention and control within the context of the total law enforcement and criminal justice effort” (Juvenile Justice) This was followed by The Transitional Living Program for Homeless Youth of 1988 which “supports projects that provide long-term residential services to (transitional age) homeless youth.”and teaches them skills for success further along in life (Transitional Living Program). After that came the 1994 Street Outreach Program was created to prevent youth from becoming victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation (Street Outreach Program). To support homeless and pregnant girls, in 2003 Maternity Group Homes were created (Maternity Group Homes). More recently, in 2010  United States Interagency Council on Homelessness made an agreement that was said to help “every community to have a comprehensive response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible” (Opening Doors).There are dozens of programs working on this issue of homeless and runaway youth. One of the most influential is the U.S Department of Health & Human Services Family and Youth Services Bureau. It has created numerous programs for at-risk youth including the Street Outreach Program, the National Runaway Safeline, the Transitional Living Program, and the Maternity Group Homes for Pregnant and Parenting Youth to name a few. Another important program in the elimination of youth homelessness is the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which supports communities with guidelines for eliminating youth homelessness, for example, one named “Preventing and Ending Youth Homelessness: A Coordinated Community Response”Inherently, after you hear about all that has been executed to improve these teen’s lives, it is only normal to wonder why this is still such a severe problem. The answer lies within whatever has led up to this. You can see youth homelessness as a subsequent action. As stated previously, there are a large number of contributing factors, ranging from parent addiction to child trafficking. The causes all have something in common, they are ever-changing situations, and can’t be stopped by a simple law or organization. To eradicate this issue, every single contributing factor has to be abolished or solved. That’s a tall order.Naturally, it’s rather discouraging to hear how difficult a complete solution will be. If adults are having difficulty solving this, how could anyone, especially school-age children, have any shot at progress? As Thomas Jefferson stated, “Knowledge is power” (Light and Liberty). To eliminate youth homelessness, we have to start at the recipient. There are many programs in place to assist educators in recognizing child abuse, but there don’t appear to be many programs directing education to students. To get rid of this issue, youth have to be educated about several things. Firstly, they need to understand the types of abuse and their common identifiers. More importantly, students need to be taught what exactly to do if they, or someone they know are in a dangerous situation. They need to know where they can go for support, and who to call. Teens need to know that there are safety nets set up for them.Another way teens can help out is by fundraising. There are many places teens can fall to for support, and many are non-profit. Raising money or supplies can greatly help in the stability of an organization, which leads to better conditions for their residents. Drop-in shelters are a popular alternative to a homeless shelter. Instead of a basic residence, drop in shelters provide services such as daytime shelter, food, water, and medical supplies. One local example of this the Huckleberry House in San Francisco, which not only provides emergency shelter at their drop-in center, they also provide to youth previous to their crisis. They have medical clinics, and groups that work towards success later in life, such as their culinary program for those looking for work. Places like Huckleberry House can be some teen’s only safe option, and through support, these programs’ accomplishments can only grow.Homelessness is a severe crisis that needs to be addressed in every community. In previous decades the views on homeless youth have changed drastically, leading to both positive and negative repercussions. Although in the Twin Cities, it’s not as blatantly obvious, youth homelessness is a huge issue in the United States, and even more so in California. The act of running away is generally seen as a negative, but for some teens, it can be their only alternative to abuse or trafficking. Even after previous attempts to resolve this issue, changes of power from hand to hand have made it difficult for progress to be made. This problem isn’t something that can be solved with a simple law or program. Running away is a response to another negative factor in someone’s life, which can be ever-changing, and uncontrollable. To truly reduce the numbers of homeless youth, education is vital. Teens need to know options for support if they, or someone they know are in an unsafe environment. In California alone, the amount of homeless has gone up by the thousand from 2015 to 2016 alone. This isn’t something we can ignore, we need to act on our goals and do something for these displaced youth.

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