Homeless Children and Youth
“… my Dad had cancer and stuff. He was the man of the house, so when he passed away, I needed to step up and, you know, take his spot. And I did…then another male figure, you know, tried to step in the picture and I got moved out”. – African American, Male, Age 17*
*(No Way Home, published 11/20 by Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership, page 29)
The Everychild Foundation Public Policy Committee has been studying the issue of homeless youth in Los Angeles since late 2009 when it became apparent that the population of unaccompanied homeless youth includes children from the underserved populations Everychild cares about: foster youth, abused and neglected children, and marginalized youth. Homelessness was adopted as a Policy Committee focus area in January 2010, and the Policy Committee has worked to connect with local service providers, interested funders and elected officials to bring greater attention to the needs of unaccompanied homeless youth.
Each year Los Angeles County is home to nearly 9,500 unaccompanied homeless youth, most between the ages of 12-24. Unaccompanied homeless youth include children who have been forced from their homes or are attempting to escape untenable living conditions, such as parental substance abuse, mental, physical and sexual abuse, “emancipation” from foster care and other similar conditions. Most homeless youth have insufficient life skills, resources, community support or the emotional support necessary to deal with the stresses of young adulthood. Years of abuse and neglect compound mental health distress, often manifesting in symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, suicidal ideation, substance abuse and other behavioral health issues.
Once on the streets, the need to survive and to cope cause youth to compromise their health and well being through high-risk behaviors including prostitution, increased substance abuse, illegal activity and violence. In turn, they are at greater risk of continued victimization and contracting life-threatening diseases. They often engage in disruptive behavior thereby increasing the likelihood of juvenile detention and incarceration. These crippling effects severely compromise the health and well-being of homeless youth and jeopardize their efforts to reconnect with society and succeed at education and employment. Without appropriate and compassionate intervention, homeless youth are destined to enter an irreversible cycle of chronic homelessness, total dependence on welfare, and permanent aversion to society.
• More than 1.3 million children in the United States are homeless at some time each year.
• In 2004, child protective services agencies reported that an estimated 872,000 children were victims of child abuse or neglect.
• 12-17 year olds are at more risk of homelessness than are adults.
• Nearly 20,000 foster youth age out from foster care each year.
• In California, 65% of emancipated foster youth lack stable housing, end up on the streets, and later fall into chronic homelessness.
• Almost half of homeless school-aged children have witnessed domestic violence and 44% of homeless youth report that one or both of the parents had at some point received treatment for substance abuse or psychological problems.
• Prior to leaving home, 43% of youth report being beaten by a caretaker, and 25% have had a caretaker request sexual activity.
• Almost half of homeless school-aged children have witnessed domestic violence.
Committee Work in This Area
1. Los Angeles Homeless Funders Group: In 2009 the Policy Committee accepted an invitation to attend a meeting of the Los Angeles Homeless Funders Group, a network of local philanthropic foundations and government agencies. The Homeless Funders Group’s goal is to develop and implement strategic, coordinated regional investment to end homelessness in Los Angeles County. After approving the mission and focus of the group, the Policy Committee appointed a permanent representative to the Homeless Funders Group and has played an active role in the meetings. The Policy Committee has acted as a voice for homeless youth and has been instrumental in bringing the homeless youth issue to the forefront of the discussion, especially as it relates to long term, chronic homelessness.
2. Building a Policy Network Around Homelessness in Youth: Much time is being spent building relationships, attending workshops and conferences and increasing the Policy Committee’s overall understanding about the systemic failures that lead to youth homelessness. Policy Committee Representatives are seeking to raise awareness in the funding and policy communities around the need to improve services for homeless youth.
3. Hosted Workshop for Funders: In September 2010, the Policy Committee held a workshop at The Rand Corporation to educate its members and other local foundations on the issue of homelessness youth. This workshop focused on the current issues and policies as well as programmatic and service gaps. Panelists from My Friend’s Place, Los Angeles Youth Network (LAYN) and Public Counsel Law Center provided insight into the nature of youth homelessness, the lack of stable shelters and housing to support homeless young people and the need to broad the partnerships between the public and private sectors to leverage existing practices and resources to better solve the homeless youth crisis.
4. Homeless Youth and the LA Public Library: In November 2010, Policy Committee Members facilitated a meeting between representatives from Everychild, the Teen’Scape Center of the LA Downtown Public Library, Public Counsel and LAYN to discuss the increasing usage of the Library as a safe place for homeless youth. During the course of this meeting it was learned that homeless youth were often unable to access public computers due to a lack of a library card. After a series of discussions in May of 2011 the LA Downtown Public Library announced that temporary cards would be made widely available for homeless youth. Policy Committee Members also facilitated a presentation at the quarterly meeting of librarians on barriers facing homeless youth and some ways librarians can help. To better assist the librarians in accessing services for these youth, the Policy Committee is preparing a directory of service providers for librarian use. It is expected that it will be distributed in 2012.