How do we value our homeless youth? ActNow: Young people are so resilient; they sometimes need a bit of support to help them along
Kathy Magnuson, above
"Young people are so resilient. They have so much potential. They just need a little bit of support to help them along." - Deborah Loon
by Kathy Magnuson
It could be the 17-year-old young woman whose dad lost his job and then the family lost their home. They moved in with another family. There wasn't enough room for everyone, so she went out on her own. She was so close to graduating from high school, but it was tough to do homework when she didn't know where she'd be sleeping each night. She dropped out.
It could be the girl who grew up with a crack-addicted mother. Her mother moved to another state, and the daughter stayed behind. She didn't tell any friends or teachers that she slept anywhere she could - sheds, empty buildings, new construction. When winter set in, it got cold.
It could be the 16-year-old whose mother kicked her out of the house when she found out her daughter was a lesbian. She lived from one friend's home to another until her welcome wore out. She bounced from school to school, running out of options.
There are lots of stories to go with the statistics - stories of how young people became homeless and what happened to them. According to the Wilder Foundation, on any night in Minnesota more than 4,000 youth and young adults are homeless. Homeless youth are disproportionately people of color and victims of violence, be it sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
"Every young person's story is unique," according to Deborah Loon, executive director of Avenues for Homeless Youth, an organization that provides emergency shelter, short-term housing and supportive services for homeless youth. But among those stories, economic, racial and cultural disparities are an underlying factor. "What we try to do is to provide a safe place and support them in figuring out how to overcome those disparities," she says.
About 250 youth each year stay at Avenues an average of 90-120 days with a goal of moving into stable living arrangements.
Finding hope in this situation is the easy part, according to Loon. "Young people are so resilient. They have so much potential. Once they can move out of crisis and survival mode, you can see them start to feel safer and begin to look to their future. They just need a little bit of support to help them along. They have it in them."
The barriers are the tough part. "We can't fix all the barriers, the social injustice," Loon says. Avenues aims to break what is sometimes a cycle of intergenerational poverty in order to help young people with unfair circumstances share the same dreams as other young people who have homes.
About half of the youth leaving Avenues move into a housing program or an apartment of their own.
Imagine if you were a young person who had recently lived on the street and were now setting up your own home space. What resources would you have?
YOUCANHELP: The wish list for Avenues for Homeless Youth includes a "bed-in-a-bag," a zip-lock 20-gallon size bag containing a blanket, pillow and extra-long twin-size sheets. It also lists a "duffle of dreams," which is a duffle bag with pajamas, a robe and slippers. The entire wish list and directions for making contributions and volunteering is at www.avenuesforyouth.org/makeadifference-wishlist.html