Each year, about two million youths experience homelessness, and will go it alone, without family. On any given night, between 300,000 to 400,000 youths sleep on the streets and in parks, in abandoned buildings, on the couches of strangers, and if they are lucky, on the couches of friends or in shelters.At least 24,000 teens a year face the streets once they age out of foster care.
There's not enough space for all these lost kids in shelters, which are relatively safe. On the street, they panhandle, steal and prostitute themselves in order to survive. Rape, sexual exploitation, physical assault, addiction, mental illness and physical illness like HIV/AIDS can be hard to avoid. Some commit suicide.
Poverty, racism and homophobia are major contributors to youth homelessness. Black and Native American youth and youth from low-income and working class families are overrepresented among homeless youth. LGBTQ youth are overrepresented at extreme rates, with 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ versus two to three percent in the general population.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Photo credit: canada.poverty
Early intervention services for family preservation and housing options when youth cannot return home are key to ending youth homelessness.
I urge you to increase the budget for the Chaffee Foster Care Independence Program, which only currently allots $800 per youth a year, making it impossible to house youth aging out of foster care under this program.
Less than 4,000 of our homeless youth are housed each year. We must do better.
It only takes about $11,800 a year to house a homeless youth but $25,000 to $55,000 per year to put one in foster care, jail, or inpatient treatment.
I ask that you increase funding for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, in order to increase services like outreach and emergency shelter.
Please, seriously consider the suggestions made to end youth homelessness in the Homeless Youth Letter to the Obama Administration, proposed by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
And never forget to examine the ways poverty, racism, and homophobia contribute to and maintain youth homelessness.