Quick quiz: What percentage of the homeless population is under 18?
There are certainly many people who don’t like to believe that the answer is “c”. But it’s true—almost a quarter of homeless persons are children under 18. Some are accompanied by a parent or siblings; some are alone on the streets.
In big cities, it’s not uncommon to see teenagers leaning against storefronts in the rain, sitting on their backpacks, holding cardboard signs. Some of the signs say things like “Need $$ for food” or “All help is appreciated, God Bless.” There’s an extremely pretty teenage girl who sits near the entrance to the local Ferry terminal. She doesn’t hold a sign; she just sits on the wet sidewalk cross-legged, hood up, hands folded, like some small Buddha, smiling tiredly at people who walk by. I wonder how she ended up on the street; I wonder where she goes to sleep at night. Does she sleep in a shelter, surrounded by men? Does she have a special doorway that she sleeps in? And what was wrong with the doorway of her old home, and why can’t she walk through it again? She may not even have had a home in her whole life—21% of the homeless were born homeless, have never known a home as long as they’ve lived.
Some of the teenagers who were born homeless are, through a combination of circumstances, never able to get “back on their feet”—not, of course, that they ever had the proverbial “feet” in the first place. Imagine having to start life from scratch, with no money, no support system, nothing to fall back on. And with the multitude of problems the homeless have to deal with already—hunger, physical abuse, depression, the search for employment, etc.—a homeless teenager is unlikely to receive a high school diploma. Understandable, since schoolwork seems quite useless to someone who needs a full scholarship to go college—a feat nearly impossible for even the most talented and privileged students. Besides, homeless teenagers have unbelievable obstacles to deal with already. Every single day is a struggle to find food, work, warmth, safety. On top of that, many may have younger family members who depend on them to work—and many of the homeless are employed; they simply do not make enough money to provide constant necessities for their family. In Seattle the hourly wage needed to sustain a family of three is $23.35. Minimum wage is $7.63. And along with work, homeless teenagers frequently have parents who depend on their support, parents who may be mentally or physically ill, or alcoholics, or substance abusers. Algebra homework and five paragraph essays are simply not a priority or a possibility in the lives of homeless teenagers.
Other teenagers are born into “stable” homes but take to the streets when they decide that home life is unendurable. Unfortunately, teenagers who leave home are often pegged as runaways, rebels, or brats who don’t know what’s good for them. In reality, many deal with physical, mental, and sexual abuse at home, and find themselves with no one to turn to. To get away—and in some cases, save their own lives—they feel that they have no alternative but street life. - Lilly
A few ways you can you help?
- Get involved in local public policy to look at how you municipality is providing support to youth living on the streets.
- Donate funds to youth specific homeless services and shelters.
Volunteer at youth specific shelters
- Get informed about the statistics in your community
- Educate yourself what is happening nationally: Stand Up For Kids