When most people think of the homeless, they think of adults or those who made the conscious decision to live on the streets. However, a vast majority of homeless are there not of their own volition but because of dire economic circumstances. Moreover, many of those individuals are not adults but are youth. Many of those youth are mere children.
According to Independent Lens, a PBS publication, one in 30 kids—which amounts to nearly 2.5 million children—of K-12 school age are homeless in the United States. In California alone, 15,000 youth live on the streets, a 32% increase since 2015. Why are these youth ending up on the streets and, more importantly, what can cities and states do to keep children in good homes? One answer Pam Baer, a community leader and philanthropist based out of San Francisco, has a suggestion: mentorship and support.
Support Is Necessary To Prevent Kids From Running Away
Regardless of how strong-willed or hard-headed a youth is, the truth is that children need guidance and support. When a child feels vulnerable and alone, he or she is more likely to contemplate running away. If, after realizing no one is there to stop him or her, the youth is at increased risk for acting on his or her thoughts. For this reason, it is absolutely critical that communities implement resources that are always available to troubled teens and children. Some such resources that prove to be effective include teachers, role models, and coaches. Studies show that a listening ear and genuine concern go a long way toward keeping youth off the streets.
According to a Crisis Connection Analysis conducted by the National Runaway Safeline in 2015, 54% of youth who make contact are in crisis mode and contemplating running away. What this statistic shows is that youth simply need someone to turn to when in the throes of these distressful thoughts. They want somebody who will listen to their grievances with genuine concern and without judgment, and who will help them create a plan of action that will keep them safe and off the street. Whether that plan involves them finding a new place to live (if, say, the youth’s home life is bad) or entails getting the youth counseling (if the issue is an internal one), the ultimate goal is the same: To provide the attention and care isolated youth crave and deserve.
The NHS doesn’t just provide a listening ear (though that is at the heart of what the organization does). Rather, the NHS also provides a curriculum that contains lessons and information on how the youth can identify individuals in their lives that are able and willing to act as a compassionate mentor.
Education Is Key To Keeping Kids At Home
The education module that NHS utilizes is a necessary step in the effort to prevent youth homelessness. Many times, youth run away because of their irrational feelings or beliefs that they’re alone in their problems. The truth is though that, regardless of how alone a child feels, there is someone — whether it be a community leader, a teacher or a friend’s parent — whom a young person can turn to when in crisis. The key is to identify who that person is.
The education module that NHS utilizes contains lessons and exercises that inform youth that there is always someone willing to lend a listening ear and support. The curriculum helps youth identify who that person is and teaches them how to approach said person without feeling fearful.
The module also emphasizes the fact that young people need basic necessities such as shelter, food, school, and clothing. If a youth feels as if he or she can do without those things in exchange for freedom, the organization takes steps to help him or her identify negative influences and to seek out positive ones. Oftentimes, negative influences — whether they come in the form of friends, family members or controlled substances — are at the root of a teen’s desire to run away.
Preventing Youth Homelessness Is a Community Responsibility
Youth homelessness is not a problem strictly for the parent or the teen. Rather, it is an issue for the entire community and as such, communities need to assume responsibility for it and come together to implement programs to prevent it. Some segments of the community that are directly affected by the homeless youth include immediate family members, law enforcement, worship communities, foster parents, shelters, friends and teachers.
Ending youth homelessness doesn’t have to be a solo effort, and it shouldn’t be. By coming together to implement programs designed to reunite families, educate youth, employ youth and mobilize philanthropists, communities can begin to get youth off the streets and, more importantly, to keep them off the streets. Philanthropists such as Pam Baer have already started — now she just needs the help of the nation.