Many of the 3,000 homeless children and youth in Connecticut are on the streets because of mental illness, abuse and instability in their families.
Nationally, children under the age of 18 account for 39 percent of the homeless population.
The Partnership for Strong Communities reports that unaccompanied youth are children up to age 17 who are not residing with their legal guardians or youth ages 18-24 who are experiencing poverty and homelessness alone. Homeless children and youth are more likely than those who are stably housed to experience depression, decreased mental health, substance abuse and chronic homelessness.
The causes of this epidemic are numerous. Many teens end up without a place to stay because of a parent’s drug or alcohol use, while others are kicked out because of their LGBTQ status. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found that 46 percent of homeless youth left home because of physical abuse while 17 percent left because of sexual abuse. Over two thirds of unaccompanied youth reported that at least one of their parents abused drugs or alcohol.
“I don’t know if there’s a main cause,” Susan Campbell, communications and development director of the Partnership for Strong Communities, said. “There’s a significant portion of LGBTQ youth who are kicked out of their homes and don’t have services available to them. There are some youths who have behavioral issues, mental health issues, substance abuse issues. And some have all of that — again, with inadequate services to meet their needs.”
While on the streets, children and unaccompanied youth are more likely to engage in “survival sex,” or trading sexual favors to gain food, clothes, money, drugs or just a safe place to sleep at night.
A study conducted by The Consultation Center at Yale’s School of Medicine in 2013 interviewed 98 homeless/housing insecure youth between the ages 14 and 24. The findings showed that many of the youth indicated that they left home originally because of complications with their family of origin. Many reported having to be the primary caretakers of younger siblings although a parent was present.
Partnership for Strong Communities is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to ending homelessness, expanding the creation of affordable housing, and building strong communities in Connecticut.Organizations such as the partnership and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness are working to provide housing and education for homeless children and youth with hopes to prevent this issue from continuing and plant roots for a bright future for the housing insecure.
“There is always going to be homelessness, always,” Campbell said. “But having a service system in place – where that person, regardless of age—can plug into the services they need is so much less expensive than just ignoring them and leaving them on the street.”
Adina McCray graduated from Hamden High School in 2014