A version of this article originally appeared on Causecast.org.
This month is National Youth Homelessness Awareness Month, and it has come not a moment too soon. Teen homelessness rates have soared in the U.S., with fewer jobs available for teens to help their family financially and more stresses pushing more kids to leave their homes and live on the streets. With more than three-quarters of these cases going unreported by parents and caretakers, many times there is no one even looking for these kids, and too often, they aren't trusting of the help that occasionally is offered to them.
Children make up 27% -- the fastest growing segment -- of the U.S. homeless population, and there's no end in sight; the recession has forced many families out of their homes, making these youth just another group on the long list of victims, moving from couch to couch, shelter to shelter. But for many, economic stresses are just another ingredient in dysfunctional home lives, leading many to run away. They escape their home only to find new dangers and challenges; as many have pointed out, it's not that these youth are living on the streets -- they're surviving, at best. And while Obama's economic stimulus plan has funneled $1.5 billion to fight homelessness, virtually all of that money goes to homeless families, not unaccompanied youth.
As a result, nonprofits and private charities have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders in this upcoming year; it is estimated there will be a 10-20% increase in homelessness this year, many of them children. One organization working to change this trend is StandUp for Kids, working to get abused youth into shelters and away from their abusers through the Don't Run Away Program. They're also instrumental in helping street kids get their own apartments and teaching them the basic skills they need to live on their own.
They're not alone in the fight. This month marked the third year of the Virgin Mobile FreeFest, working to help end youth homelessness. The National Alliance to End Homelessness has initiated a new program to focus particularly on youth and get them the help they need through early intervention, long-term housing, and after-care services for youth coming from foster care and correctional settings. You too can help, particularly this month:
• Volunteer with StandUp for Kids. You can also donate $5 right now by texting STANDUP to 85944 on your mobile phone (don't forget to reply YES to the confirmation message).
• Participate in peer outreach and community-based outreach to prevent youth homelessness in the first place. If you think someone you know is considering running away or already has, call 1-800-RUNAWAY or contact the Family and Youth Services Bureau to help find shelter for a homeless youth.
• Let your state representatives know that we need more affordable housing options for young adults.
• Stay up to date on upcoming opportunities with Causecast and Huffington Post Impact this month and get involved to help end youth homelessness.
• Read the latest blog post from filmmaker Michael Hubbard, who discusses his experiences working with homeless families in Los Angeles for the Heartfelt Foundation.
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