Did you see any homeless youth on the way to work this morning? If you're like a lot of people here in New York or other cities, you probably did, even if you didn't realize it. That's probably because homeless youth have become adept at not standing out for fear of being arrested, harassed or exploited, especially if they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning (LGBTQ).
On June 29, Safe Horizon will march in New York City's Pride parade, one of the largest in the world. We are marching with colleagues and youth we've helped through our Streetwork Project because homeless LGBTQ youth deserve to be seen. With the recent addition by Mayor Bill de Blasio of 100 beds to New York City's youth shelter system -- including 24 beds designated for LGBTQ youth -- the problem of youth homelessness is picking up traction. But increased understanding of the problem is critical to building support.
At Safe Horizon we are incredibly proud of our programs to provide thousands of young people every year a respite from hunger, loneliness, and fear, and the opportunity to reclaim for themselves a sense of dignity and self-worth. However, we cannot take pride in the fact that youth homelessness is robbing our country of its most valuable assets.
5 Things You Didn't Know About Homeless Youth
I want to share with you five things that you might not know about homeless youth and ask you to share with your networks. The more that people understand this problem, the more that we can rally behind efforts to create solutions.
- LGBTQ youth are over-represented among homeless youth. 1 in 20 young people in NYC identify as LGBTQ; among homeless youth the number is 1 in 4. LGBTQ youth are over-represented because, in addition to all of the reasons why any young person may become homeless (poverty, family violence, untreated mental illness, or substance addiction, systemic racism, etc.), LGBTQ youth face the added risks of being rejected by their families or pushed out of their foster care placements because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
- Homeless youth are at enormous risk of being involved in illegal activities - often just to survive.
According to a recent study by Columbia University Law School, "Family rejection and homelessness are top predictors that a young person will come in contact with the criminal justice system because of police targeting of homeless and low-income communities and people engaged in survival economies -- such as drug sales, sex work, and other criminalized activity -- to quite literally survive."
- We are very bad at counting homeless youth.
The last time a youth homeless count took place in NYC, counters hit the streets on one of the coldest nights of the year, a night when many homeless young people sought refuge somewhere warm, like a subway car. They counted only 71 unsheltered young people in all of NYC while experts estimate that there are 5,000 homeless or unaccompanied young people on any given night. Tragically, incomplete data is then used to determine how many beds are funded, leaving thousands of young people under the radar and literally out in the cold.
- We don't have nearly enough safe places for homeless youth to sleep.
Even with Mayor de Blasio's addition of 100 beds, there are less than 500 emergency shelter spaces for more than 5,000 young people who need them in NYC. At Safe Horizon's Streetwork Project, our shelter has 24 beds but the waiting list is often 100 names long . Nationwide the situation is even worse: there are just 4,000 beds for the more than 500,000 homeless young people.
- Violence at home is the leading cause of youth homelessness. 70 percent of homeless youth say they left their homes to escape violence like physical and sexual abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Additionally, many child victims of violence become involved with the foster care system where they can "age out" of care as young adults, with no housing and no means of supporting themselves.
2 Things You Can do Right Now to Help Homeless Youth
- Share the infographic below on social media.
- Support Safe Horizon and other organizations fighting for funding and policy changes that will turn the tide for all homeless youth.