Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The New Face of Homelessness

Earlier today the [Redacted] Comtesse sent me this article which posted this morning on AOL News. It was about the new face of homelessness. The young face of homelessness.  Article author Carol West, of InvestigateWest, notes that the record number of homeless young adults is:
 "... driven by two large converging forces: an economy that has been especially brutal on young people, and the large numbers currently exiting foster care." 
~ Carol West  for AOL News 

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts report Time for Reform: Aging out and on their own, as of the year 2007, nationwide, one in four youth aging out of foster care will be incarcerated within two years. One in five will be homeless, and only 58% of youth aging out of foster care had high school diplomas (compared to 87% of youth with families) which would clearly diminish their chance of getting a job that would support them sufficiently to prevent homelessness.

Homeless children and youth strike a really personal chord with me. My youngest child was homeless until age 5. But he's safe now. (Well, until he finds out what trouble he's in because of the state of his room...) However, two of my three recently aged out Guardian ad Litem youth, with whom I'm still in fairly regular contact, are homeless. One is homeless at 19, after a former lover, who had a mental breakdown after the death of a parent, stabbed him multiple times. He was released from the hospital after three weeks and had lost almost all his possessions and didn't even know where to go. He roams from one friend's to another's house. He stays until he wears out his welcome, which sadly isn't very long. He's a big kid and eats a lot. He's learning disabled and can't hold a real job. His sibling, who is 18, is also homeless. And she's five months pregnant. I'm hoping the third youth, also 18, who is now at risk of homelessness because of the threat of losing her Road to Independence funds, can hang on while we get things straightened out for her, and for her toddler. Sadly, I've heard of quite a few teens who age out of foster care and go homeless. Shelters are jam-packed in these times. Seattle is one of the few cities in the US with youth shelters. But even there, things are stretched to the limit.

"We're turning people away in record numbers," said Kristine Cunningham, executive director of ROOTS in Seattle, one of the pioneering young adult shelters in the country. ROOTS expects to turn young people away more than 2,000 times this year, compared with about 200 times five years ago. This year, the 27-bed shelter expects to provide a place to sleep for 542 young adults."

The article notes that unemployment has soared among young adults, which I say I've definitely noted in my own household. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in late August that employment among youth 16-24 years of age is the lowest it's ever been, since they started keeping records in the youth employment series back in 1948. The unemployment rate in July 2010 was 19.1% for youth ages 16-24, the highest rate ever noted, and most significantly, at the peak of the summer, when youth normally have the highest rates of employment. Opined one youth, Shane, on his circumstances:

"The thing about being homeless -- you get stuck in one spot," he said. "Might get a little more money in your pocket the next day, but you're still going to be broke."

Stuck. They are stuck in the cycle of homelessness, which ironically may be tied into the cycle of dependency, i.e. the child welfare cycle. How many of these homeless youth will become homeless parents and then parents who lose their children? Public will and public dollars will likely be required to break that cycle. Better programs for parents who want to regain custody of their children and for youth aging out of care.

There was this other photo in the article that just slays me. 

The thing is, I know one youth, a now deceased TPR'd parent, and my son's biological mother do, or did, just that same thing. I know it must be commonplace. Still, that photo hit me hard. And then I got to the paragraph that made me have to take a break from reading...

"Children born to homeless mothers, or who experience multiple episodes of housing instability -- couch surfing, staying in motels or shuttling between households when they are young -- often mirror that in their own adulthoods."

I'm trying to just let go of that idea entirely. I'm trying to envision deconstruction of that idea into random quarks and gluons and to reassemble them into fluffy kittens and bunnies and puppies and a whole lot of otters.

I can't tell you the number of times that I have wondered what the baby or toddler or child's mind retains from those early years when so much must have gone wrong for a child to be in foster care. I see corners of it in my child from time to time, with reactions to things that appear to be so innate and deeply instilled that it scares me. What was done to my child? Could stuff that happened so early on be so very profound? But then I look at my three aged out GAL youth and think maybe I have my answer. I'm just hoping that a decade of good, of love, will drown out whatever was built into that neural network in my child's mind. That a flood of positive will outweigh the way his baby and toddler and young child brain got built.

It still scares the bejeezus out of me.

Please watch Mike Kane's short documentary and listen to Tony Torres's moving words. 

Generation Homeless: Voices from the Street from Mike Kane on Vimeo.
Two young adults from Seattle share their insights and experiences with being homeless.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

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