The beginning of 2011 has proven that it will be quite an eventful year. We’ve all been reading about it in the news - the civil unrest in Egypt, Republicans attempting to repeal President Obama’s Health Care Reform, and Governor Brown’s “tough love” approach to the state budget. Amidst these pressing issues, however, I wanted to shed some light on a noteworthy topic receiving much less attention - youth homelessness. In California, the term “homeless youth” generally refers to 12 - 24 year olds who are inadequately housed and apart from their families. A Bay Citizen article states that “200,000 kids between 12 and 17 will be homeless - and alone - for at least one night in California, but the state has only 1,000 beds to take care of them.” There are thousands of individuals between 18 and 24 who will be inadequately housed as well.
The majority become homeless because of “family conflict, neglect, or rejection over sexual orientation.” Currently, the state and nearly two-thirds of its counties do not offer services geared specifically towards this population. Most homeless shelters are meant for adults and usually turn away unaccompanied youth, forcing them to live in the streets. Additionally, research indicates that homeless youth do not qualify for government services such as foster care, former foster care, and juvenile justice programs, leaving them with minimal support.
According to a California Watch article, youth homelessness has worsened in recent years with the unemployment rate reaching record highs during the recession. Before the recession, unemployment among 16 - 24 year olds was approximately 10 percent and today it is 18.1, much larger than the nation’s overall rate of 9.4. Unemployment insurance, intended for older, out-of-work adults, is not available to teens and young adults having a difficult time entering the workforce for the first time.
The state of our economy is making it much more difficult for homeless youth to improve their situation.
Thankfully this issue is being addressed in Sacramento. Homeless youth and advocates lobbied the halls of the State Capitol on January 24th to address pertinent issues and discuss legislation. State Senators Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) recently introduced a package of bills that would declare youth homelessness a statewide priority, call upon the California Emergency Management Agency to develop a strategy to reduce this problem, and create a state licensing category for youth shelters which would preserve over $6 million in federal funding. Senators Liu and Lowenthal acknowledged that funding these initiatives in a time of fiscal crisis was going to be challenging, but they believe that putting this issue on the state’s radar was a necessary first step.
The issue is certainly relevant to us as Los Angeles County residents. According to a 2009 report, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) estimates that on any given day there are 42,694 homeless people in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care (CoC), which includes all of LA County except for the cities of Pasadena, Glendale, and Long Beach. LAHSA estimates that approximately 16 percent are age 24 years old or under; and two-thirds of the total homeless population is unsheltered. In the San Fernando Valley, the total homeless count is 3,312 with 54 percent unsheltered and 19 percent who are 24 or under.
Youth homelessness is another aspect our state must fix for a better future. I know you have all heard this before, but today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders - not to mention some may be the next generation of Young Democrats. We need to make sure they are given the means to thrive so that they can be in the proper mindset to take advantage of opportunities to ensure a better future for themselves and their communities. Otherwise, the homeless youth will be left in the streets continuing to be exposed to danger on a daily basis. Currently, a high rate experience mental health problems including depression and suicide as well as drug abuse, sexual exploitation and malnutrition.
As we move forward this year, I urge you to keep the homeless in mind especially those in our generation and younger. I encourage you to donate clothing or food items to relevant non-profit organizations. Our club actually just held a clothing drive during our last General Membership Meeting on January 25th. We collected warm clothing and donated it to the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission, an organization that outreaches to low-income and homeless individuals in the Valley. If you are interested in donating to them, please check out their website at www.sanfernandovalleyrescuemission.org.