People often wonder why youth are homeless. There is not one reason that fits all. Under the surface, some youth are fleeing poverty and the inability to find jobs, while others are victims running from family abuse or the foster system. These youth often struggle with substance abuse to cope with the unrelenting pressures of street life. Many have serious untreated mental health disorders.
Without a safe place to go, many choose to leave their hometown and join other young people on the road, where they are accepted by a network of peers. It’s a means of survival, too, because it is often not safe to be alone on the street. These youth are not traveling for fun. Being homeless and without resources, some are constantly forced to move on before they can make the life changes that would allow them to stay.
It often takes years for a homeless youth to decide to start working on goals to transition off the street. For many, there is a comfort and freedom to being outside, which could lead to a lifetime of homelessness.
Homeless youth do not respond well to penalties. They are naturally distrusting of authority and institutions that have repeatedly failed them. They are unable to pay their fines. They are often accustomed to going to jail. The punishment of incarceration perpetuates their feeling of worthlessness and disconnection from society.
As street outreach workers for homeless youth, my team helps connect youth with local rehab/housing opportunities, family reunification, mental health supports, and educational/vocational programs, offering alternatives to street life. This progress is something that takes time, community supports, and the assistance of a well-trained team.