A homeless young person refers to a person under the age of 21 who cannot live in a secure environment with a relative and who does not possess a safer alternative living plan (Bender, et al, 2014). The unaccompanied young people on the side are self-employed. Two million-six hundred young people in the US have become homeless last year. Youths are homeless. Although these homeless young people appear virtually all over the world, they are mainly found in the main cities. There are still scant studies for this unique category making visualizing a complete and realistic image very challenging. Regardless of these limitations, recent researches describe homeless youths as an enormous diverse group with multiple problems such as emotional and mental issues, substance abuse, health and housing problems. Whereas some of these challenges are long-standing, others are worsened by the stressful environment and experiences of these homeless youths. Homelessness poses several health risks to youths and can interrupt their normal education and socialization that influences the youths in their adult life. This paper will therefore discuss the history, causes and consequences of homelessness among the youths and current policies and programs set in place to handle homelessness among youths.
History of Homelessness among Youths
According to Moore (2005), homelessness among the youth in the U.S began with the formation of the country. While the first settlers began expanding their territories, adolescents went out to seek economic opportunities and adventure. The 1800s experiences widespread homelessness especially among the poor immigrant youths who did not have skills needed in the workforce. The 1960s brought in another group of homeless youths (runaways) who left upper-class or middle class homes to focus on self-expression and self-exploration (Moore, 2005). In 1970 to 1980s, the number of homeless youths increased as a result of neglect, forceful eviction from home or permission from parents to live on the streets. The families of these youths experiences family conflicts, violence and substance abuse. In the 1990s, the main cause of youth homelessness was family dysfunction. Over the years, these youths have unsuccessfully tried to integrate into the modern-industrialized society.
The history of homelessness varies by whether the youths are sampled from streets or shelters. Research on homeless youths obtained from shelters indicate that majority of homeless youths have only been homeless for shorter periods and have not had prior experiences of homelessness (Quilgar, 2008). On the other hand, data collected from homeless youth living on the streets shows that most of these youths had either chronic homelessness (being homeless for a year or more) or patterns of episodic homelessness (multiple homelessness episodes constituting a period of less than a year). Homeless youths become homeless because of various reasons as discussed below
Causes of Homelessness among Youths
Even though recent research categorizes the homeless youths as young people aged between twelve to twenty-one years, adolescents who are under eighteen years have a higher risk of becoming homeless than adults. According to Aratani (2009), more females than males often become homeless either by choice or circumstances. Of these, African-American children experience homelessness at a higher rate (about forty-seven percent) compared to other ethnicities. Some of the causes of homelessness among youths include:
Lack of affordable housing: Over the years, affordable accommodation units have become fewer due to the shortage of the older low-quality apartments that could be found in the private market. The rapid increase in population has aggravated the situation. Consequently, there has been increased overcrowding in the available houses, inadequate housing and the associated cost of burden. Besides, the mismatch between the youths income and costs of housing, the constant rise of single households, ageing population and changes in the family structure have also made affording housing an impossibility for many youths. In addition, the unwillingness or inability of relatives, friends and parents to provide accommodation has also exacerbated the housing menace. A stable home can only prosper with the support from family and or friends and the lack thereof results to discouragement and deterioration of the youths life (Quilgar, et al, 2008). Also, the young people cannot afford to manage the house without proper life skills that can enable them to live independently.
Family dysfunction: Most homeless youths cite family conflict as the main reason for being homeless. These sources of conflict often vary but may include conflicts with parents regarding the youths sexual orientation and activity, alcohol and drug abuse, school problems, pregnancy or child-parent relationship. Besides, physical or sexual abuse and neglect also increase risk of homelessness. For instance, some of the homeless youths report cases of either physical or sexual abuse such as maltreatment, rape, or brutal beatings (Moore, 2005). Sometimes, the youth may witness acts of violence between other family members and decide to runaway to avoid the violent environment (Anooshian, 2005). In other cases, the youths parent(s) may have mental issues, pass away or he or she may be abusing substances such as alcohol and drugs. Such parents may become violent towards their children or neglect them all the same.
Economic insecurity: Families that face economic difficulties because of poverty cannot support their children. As a result, the older family members become jobless and experience residential instability forcing the youths to seek shelter outside their home. The economic recession experienced in 2007 also increased unemployment rates especially among blue-collar employees. As a result, these unemployed individuals rely on government assistance that cannot sustain the whole family leading to homelessness especially among the affected youth.
Behavioral health: Youths who have been exposed to violent or traumatic events can develop behavioral health issues that may make them homeless. Regarding this, constant exposure to violent acts often leads to depression or health issues. In turn, the affected youth may seek comfort by abusing alcohol or drugs to handle the depression. While some may start to engage in other harmful acts such as self-mutilation, some may decide to run away from home in hope of a better life elsewhere (Aratani, 2009).
Aging out of Foster care: Most foster cares expect the youths to exit the homes after attaining eighteen years. However, about twelve to thirty-six percent of youths who exit foster care systems become homeless. Regarding this, these youths have limited support in terms of skills and financial aid and therefore have lower chances of getting employment or affordable housing. And even though some of these youths get a decent living, majority struggle to fit in a society that perceives them as misfits with no qualification and therefore no value whatsoever.
Involvement in the juvenile justice system: Most young people who live on the streets often commit minor offenses to acquire food or shelter. Unfortunately, these offenses often land them in the juvenile system where they serve short-term sentences or perform supervised chores. Upon leaving the juvenile system, the youths find themselves homeless again.
Consequences of Homelessness among Youths
Food insecurity: even though several shelters provide nutritious meals, most homeless youths report inadequate food and infrequency of meals while some do not get meals for days (Aratani, 2009). For the luck homeless youths who get a meal or more, the nutritional content in the meals is below the recommended levels. Therefore, the homeless youth have increased food insecurity because their lessened chances of securing food.
Poor health: Aratani (2009) posits that increased food insecurity has increased the risk of homeless youths becoming overweight because of consuming inappropriate food. Besides, homeless youths often suffer asthma, bronchitis or fevers because of the exposure to harsh environments. In addition, these homeless youths have greater risks of acquiring mental health issues such as social phobia, depression, disruptive behavior disorder and other mental disorders (Quilgars, 2008). In addition, some of these youths report to have attempted suicide while some (especially those living on the streets) abuse substances such as alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.
Victimization: unaccompanied youth are more vulnerable to sexual or physical victimization. Regarding this, about a third of homeless youths experiences post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of these youths reported to have experiences different types of assault such as with a weapon or sexual assault.
Sexually transmitted diseases: Because most of the homeless youths are under age, they have fewer legal means of earning money to survive. Therefore, many exchange sex for clothing, food and shelter. As a result, they have a greater risk of getting HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases due to their risky sexual behavior such as having multiple sexual partners, not using protection (condoms) or injecting drugs (Barman & Rice, 2011). Besides, these youths have a risk of teen pregnancy (Moore, 2005).
Incarceration: living on the streets and temporary shelters exposes homeless youths to risks of getting involved in minor offenses that often land them in the juvenile systems. Unfortunately, some of these youths join gangs and other crime organizations that often result to incarceration in adult prisons.
Current policies or programs that have been created to overcome homelessness among youth
Several fiscal policies and laws have been designed to improve the lives of homeless youths. They include:
The Runaway and Homeless Youth Protection Act: this act established programs that provide family and youth services. Some of these programs include Basic Center Programs that provide clothing, healthcare, food and emergency shelter services. Transitional Living Programs on the other hand provides residential services on a long-term basis (about eighteen months) to homeless youths. Maternity Group Homes is another program that provides pregnancy services to homeless youths on a long term basis of about eighteen months (Aratani, 2009). The Street Outreach Programs, on the other hand provides financial aid to nonprofit and private agencies that reach out to get homeless youths off the streets.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act:Thisact addresses educations needs of the homeless youths and children. Thus through this act, homeless youths have equal access to free proper public education including preschool education. In particular, this act prohibits states from segregating homeless youths in a program or school based on their homelessness (Moore, 2005). Besides, it requires states to provide the youth with transport to and from school based on the guardians or parents request. In addition, this act provides housing programs for families with low income.
Chafee Foster Care Independence Act: this act provides assistance to help current and former youths who live in foster care to transit to adulthood. In particular, the act provides grants to states alongside a plan to help homeless youths in housing, employment, education, emotional support and financial aid to youths who exit foster care (eighteen to twenty-one years).
Even though the current policies and program offer a variety of services to homeless youths, the number of homeless youths continues to grow every day. While this does not mean the programs offer ineffective services, the government should put more effort in reaching out to this special group of young people. In particular, mistrust of health professionals and other social workers and the lack of cooperation between these groups have only widened the gap. The government should revise the existing policies to ensure they are adapted to the existing trends of homeless youth because. Both governmental and non-governmental agencies that provide basic services to homeless youths should adopt a more friendly approach to attract the homeless youths. Besides, the policy actions should increase housing subsidies to issue permanent housing for homeless youths, provide occupational and vocational services, and properly design educational services, increase funds for youths exiting foster care and nutritious and adequate food at the outreach centers.
Anooshian, L. J. 2005. Violence and Aggression in the Lives of Homeless Children: A Review. Aggression and Violent Behavior 10(2): 129-152.
Aratani,Y (2009). Homeless Children and Youth: Causes and Consequence. Brief
Barman-Adhikari, A., & Rice, E. (2011). Sexual health information seeking online among runaway and homeless youth. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, 2(2), 88103.
Bender, K PhD, Begun, S, DePrince, A, Haffejee, B & Kaufmann (2014). Utilizing Technology for Longitudinal Communication with Homeless Youth, Social Work in Health Care. University of Denver, 53(9), 865-882.
Moore, J (2005). Unaccompanied and Homeless Youth Review of Literature (1995-2005). National Center for Homeless Education.
Quilgars, D, Johnsen, S & Pleace, N (2008).Youth Homelessness in the UK: A Decade of Progress? Joseph Rowntree Foundation.