Actions to “Gift” Youth Experiencing Homelessness This Holiday Season

By Maria Duarte, American Youth Policy Forum

Setting the Context

Missed Opportunities, a first-of-its-kind report by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, found that 1 in 10 young adults ages 18-25 experienced a form of homelessness over a 12-month period. Approximately 3.5 million young people are largely invisible to society. Particular subpopulations more likely to experience homelessness, include Black and Latinx youths, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ+) youth, youth who are parents, and youth who do not complete high school (see graph below).

(Credit: Voices of Youth Count)

Experiencing homelessness disrupts a young person’s development and sense of stability. Research shows that when homeless, youth are at an increased risk for labor and sex trafficking, assault, and other forms of victimization. Additionally, homeless youth are 87 percent more likely to drop out of school compared to their peers. These combined challenges cause chaos in young people’s lives, directly impacting their pathway to success. These challenges are particularly concerning since we’ve seen a 70 percent increase in homeless students over the past ten years.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified many of these challenges. For instance, many shelters throughout the country have faced fatal COVID-19 outbreaks, and many cities are preparing for record-breaking numbers of hunger and homelessness. In San Francisco, as COVID-19 cases continue to surge, advocates are speaking out against the plan to move nearly 2,300 homeless people out of shelter-in-place hotel rooms.

As we approach the holiday season – a season many deem worthy of celebration and festivities – let us remember those most in need and let us all work towards mitigating the COVID-19 impact on young people experiencing homelessness.

(Credit: Voices of Youth Count)

Here’s What You Can Do

Youth experiencing homelessness are prone to experiencing other forms of challenges, including loss of employment, food insecurity, and mental health concerns. With the pandemic closing a significant number of schools and disrupting traditional business operations, many young people are feeling more isolated than ever. Here are three “gifts” we could all offer to better support homeless youth during this holiday season:

1. Donate to local food banks and shelters

One of the main challenges for homeless youth is food insecurity. For many young people, their neighborhood schools play a vital role providing them with daily meals/nutrition. Unfortunately, the impact of the pandemic caused massive school closures throughout the country, with many schools still being closed. Thus, this is one less resource available to an already vulnerable population. The impact COVID-19 and the subsequent economic downturn have caused many food pantries to experience increased demand, specifically in states like Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas. To mitigate this issue, please consider donating to a local food bank and leverage tools like the Feeding America locator to find the nearest food bank to you. Similarly, as we experience shortages of shelters, please also consider donating relevant resources to local shelters as they try their best to respond to the crisis.

2. Speak out against injustices by advocating for the expansion of housing services for the homeless population

With many more people experiencing homelessness due to COVID-19, there is an increased urgency for state leaders to develop responsive plans to meet the needs of the moment. It’s been refreshing to see states like Oregon creating a Task Force to provide a statewide platform to strategize ways to mitigate the COVID-19 impact on the homeless population. However, there remains a real concern for housing inequality and the safety and well-being of the homeless population.

Advocacy efforts help amplify the voice of those who are marginalized, resulting in public attention and significant change. One example of advocacy success was achieved by the folks at Reclaiming Our Homes in California, who effectively advocated for the city of San Francisco to use all of its resources to care for its people. After a successful advocacy effort, they also shared a set of demands with city leaders. I hope you consider using your voice to spread the message – whether through protest, signing a petition, or being part of the audience advocacy groups usually rely-on.

Looking Ahead

Without a doubt, our country is currently under severe stress. For the past few months, we have experienced a global health crisis, on-going incidents of racial injustice, and a controversial presidential election resulting in Joe Biden being the President-elect, and Trump refusing to formally concede. What is also true is that those directly impacted by these challenges are predominately non-White. As a result, Black and Brown communities are not only facing a global health crisis – they are also experiencing housing discrimination, racial injustices, voter suppression, amongst other challenges.

If we want to support those most in need, we must be willing to build relationships and trust; we must be willing to listen to those most impacted. True commitment is not easy work. It requires humility, compassion and understanding. To that end, I encourage us all to practice being compassionate by listening more and talking less this holiday season. We owe it to our most vulnerable young people to be the very best version of ourselves as we work towards long-term solutions for the most pressing issues of our times.

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