Take a moment and imagine a homeless teen. What does he do daily? How does she behave?
Chances are you are probably misrepresenting teens. Ron Cooper, Volunteer Administrator at the Los Angeles Youth Network speaks at local high schools. He says that the biggest misconception young people have about homeless youth is that they are stupid – why else would they be homeless?
“One thing is not connected to the other,” says Cooper. “There are so many reasons why youth become homeless.”
1. Abuse is a major reason that youth are homeless; they are fleeing a bad situation.
Colleen A Wagner, Runaway & Homeless Youth Coordinator from Broome County, New York, notes that homeless youth “come from unsafe environments.” She stresses that young girls are especially vulnerable to abuse and “they just can’t take it.”
2. Another reason for being homeless is sexual orientation.
According to a study from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, around 26 percent of teens who come out are told to leave their homes.
The streets aren’t much better. According to Cooper, homeless teens don’t have a park bench to sleep on because homeless adults claim these, and “homeless adults and homeless youth don’t interact with each other.” Teens are in danger of coming into conflict with adult homeless people. Sometimes, they are even sexually assaulted.
Luckily homeless teens have the option of transitional housing in a lot of areas in America. Mike Leahey works at the Teen Transitional Living Program for Catholic Charities of Broome County. He talks fondly of the teens he works with, attesting that they are good natured youth.
3. The stereotype of a homeless teen typically doesn’t include being a student, but many are still enrolled.
However, the more their living situation changes, the harder it is for them to stay in school. Leahey stresses that a stable living environment is essential, and that education is the main tool leading a homeless teen to self-sufficiency.
Unfortunately, spaces at these shelters are tight. Los Angeles has an estimated 8,000 homeless teens and only 48 beds specifically designated for youth. In upstate New York, Leahey’s program requires teens to fill out an application (anyone that isn’t a good fit they do everything to find a home elsewhere).
Plus, these shelters and transitional housing facilities could always use donations. They provide teens with food, clothing, medicine and hygiene items. A simple way to contribute is participating in the Teens for Jeans campaign, which gives jeans to homeless teens.
“It’s important to have appropriate clothing, things that aren’t dirty or tattered,” Leahey advises about jeans donations. “It’s a huge part of building esteem.”
Most young people that are homeless are in a situation that they didn’t have anything to do with, so a simple pair of jeans can really help reach the next positive step of their lives.
Check out our Action Guides and help fight teen homelessness. GO