Seeking Shelter–California’s Homeless Youth Epidemic

Homeless youth is an unspoken epidemic

Homeless youth is an unspoken epidemic

Gemma Gabbett, Copy Editor

A gay boy, cast onto the streets by his fundamentalist parents. A pair of orphaned sisters huddling for warmth in a street corner. A jaded teen on the run from their abusive guardians. Foster children kicked out as soon as they turn 18. Every night, an estimated 1.3 million American youth go to sleep with no place to call home.

Based on national survey estimates and California’s youth population, it is likely that 200,000 youth under the age of 18, and thousands of 18 to 24 year-olds, are homeless for one or more days during a year. Foster youth and LGBT+ youth are among those most at-risk.

“I think youth become homeless because there are not enough comprehensive services available for them,” said Pixie Ganem, Project Assistant at CHYP (California Homeless Youth Project). “Affordable housing is few and far between, this impacts transition aged youth trying to support themselves when minimum wage does not cover the cost of housing, much less food[…] There is also evidence of managing adversity, if they had a neglectful or abusive environment or if they are being exiled due to identifying as LGBTQ+.”

According to the CYHP, there are several subsets of homeless youth: “runaway minors who have left home for one or more nights without permission; expelled youth who are told to leave home, are abandoned or deserted, or are prevented from returning home; and systems youth who have aged out of foster care or been released from juvenile justice or other public systems with nowhere to go.”

“I didn’t know what to do,” said one homeless youth who has asked to remain anonymous. “I had nowhere to go and no way to support myself, but I was too scared to go back to my parents.”

Wind Youth Services is the only emergency youth shelter and youth-oriented homeless support organization in Sacramento, serving homeless and at-risk youth with housing services, counseling, and assistance to independent living. It operates as a close-knit group home and houses six youth at a time per shelter. 

“I was kind of hesitant, but [joining Wind] been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said Levina Winter, a Wind Youth staff member. “It was really something that was invisible before, but now my eyes are so much more open than they were before, and I’m really grateful for that.”

It is often thought that homeless shelters are simply shelters, but Wind Youth strives to provide more than just food and board.

“My favorite part about my job is when you guys make me laugh,” said Winter, “and the many, many times when it doesn’t feel like a job. I feel like I’m at my second home, and I feel like I’m hanging out with a bunch of really cool people.”

There are many more homeless youth than there are resources to help them, and as inflation rises and social service’s funding is cut, more and more youth end up with no place to call home. 

Ganham discussed several things laypeople can do in order to better the situation for homeless youth. “Talk to your local elected leaders about the homeless youth community and ask them what they are doing to help,” Ganham said. If there are no resources to access, than the rest of the advice is useless. “See what resources are available in your community and make sure people know about them.”

“Be aware of language being used that reinforces negative ideas of people experiencing homelessness and avoid using it.” Stigma against the homeless is deep-rooted in our culture, and perpetuation of negative stereotypes reduces the probability of new resources garnering public approval and funding, which leads to the last point Ganham makes. “Treat people experiencing homelessness as people who deserve dignity and respect.”

Homeless youth are people, children and young adults who have hopes and dreams like their peers with stable homes. They are much more likely to be or become victims of sexual violence, drug abuse, and illegal activity. The opportunities provided by homeless advocacy organizations help these at-risk individuals thrive, and live productive and happy lives.

You can donate to Wind Youth Services here. Homeless services for youth are underfunded, understaffed and over-demanded, and every donation counts.