My Holiday Wish for Homeless Teens

I recently returned from the annual Runaway and Homeless Youth Conference. This year it was held in Portland, Oregon and I went on a tour of facilities in the downtown area which create a wonderful continuum of services for youth age 15 to 25.  We saw a youth shelter, a homeless youth drop-in center, an education center, a health center and transitional living apartments. These programs even share a common data base to help track youth moving from one service to the other.

Salt Lake County Youth Services sees about 1,000 runaway and homeless youth each year.  About 97% of these youth return home or to another safe place. We are constantly working with our partners at Volunteers of America, Utah to increase the services to runaway and homeless youth. But as the following stories illustrate, there is still more work to be done to create a continuum of care and additional resources in Utah, like what I saw in Oregon.

Gaps in Services to Homeless and Runaway Youth

Bill is a 17 year old from Las Vegas. Bill ran from his Grandmother’s home due to her not accepting his gay lifestyle. We negotiated a plan to have Bill stay at Youth Services while Grandmother submitted paperwork for him to enter the Job Corps program. Between the “red tape” at Job Corps and Grandmother “dragging her feet” our time ran out to keep Bill in our shelter, so the backup plan was to send Bill home on the bus until Job Corps was ready to accept him. Unfortunately, Bill ran away before getting on the bus. Bill turns 18 next week. I hope he makes it to Job Corps.  Bill needs a Transitional Living Program to give him more options.

Jill is a 16 year old parenting teen. She was referred from Head Start, where Jill’s baby is taken care of while she attends school at Horizonte. Jill had been living with the baby’s dad until he became violent while drunk.  Jill is from Mexico and is undocumented, while her child was born in the U.S. Youth Services offers a Young Mother Shelter program for teens in situations like Jill, offering up to 90 days of shelter care, child care and case management to help transition to more permanent housing. Unfortunately, a hurdle we have not been able to overcome is the state licensing requirement for a background check when working with undocumented youth. Because Jill does not have a social security number, we cannot run a background check and we cannot house her at the Young Mother Shelter.  Jill’s only choices are to return to Mexico, go back with her abusive boyfriend or go into DCFS custody.  What Jill needs is a Maternity Group Home that can serve undocumented teen mothers.

So my holiday wish is for more kids to get off the street and into existing programs and for new programs to get funded to help this increasing population.

 Runaway Youth Statistics – from the National Runaway Switchboard

  •  Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away in a year.
  • Youth aged 12-17 are at higher risk for homelessness than adults.
  • 47% of runaway / homeless youth indicated that conflict between them and their parent or guardian was a major problem.
  • Over 50% of youth in shelters and on the streets reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care.
  • 80% of runaway and homeless girls reported having ever been sexually or physically abused. 34% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported sexual abuse before leaving home and forty-three percent of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported physical abuse before leaving home.

National Runaway Switchboard this year completed a Runaway Youth Longitudinal Study, following 15,000 youth  for 15 years to study the effects of runaway behavior. Here are some highlights.

  • 10% of girls ran away before age 18 compared to 7% of boys.
  • The highest run rate was reported by bisexual youth compared to 7.6% for heterosexual youth.
  • High correlations were shown between youth in foster care and runaway behavior as well as physical, sexual and verbal abuse and running away.
  • Running away from home as an adolescent increases the odds of having suicidal thoughts as an adult by 51% and 3 times the rate of suicide attempts as adults than non- runners.
  • Former runaways have lower education completion levels and annual income as adults.
  • Odds of a former runaway being arrested as an adult is over 2 and a half times higher than an individual who never ran away from home.

What other services have you seen that are needed for homeless youth? Do you have an example of other areas that have a good continuum of services for homeless youth?

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About stevedt1954

I graduated from Weber State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications/Speech. I then received a Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling from Brigham Young University. After some postgraduate work I received a Utah state license in Marriage and Family Therapy. I began my government service with Salt Lake County Division of Youth Services as a Youth Counselor in 1979 and have served as a therapist, Group Home Manager, YSC Clinical Director, YSC Assistant Director, Program Manager for Interim Shelter and Juvenile Receiving Centers and currently is Clinical Director for the Division. I previously worked as a counselor at Heritage Youth Services, Clearfield Job Corps, Project New Pride, and currently am a part-time therapist for LDS Family Services and has a small private therapy and coaching practice.
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