they are often hidden
Brett Merfish, Director of Youth Justice at Texas Appleseed, reports on findings from the nonprofit's survey of school district homeless youth liaisons, including what is going well and where solutions are needed.
Together, we can end youth homelessness!
Three new laws from Texas' 86th legislative session will help youth experiencing homelessness, focusing on school disciplinary decisions and ensuring easier access to important documents like birth certificates and driver’s licenses.
Youth Homelessness is a Problem Across the State of Texas
An estimated 60,000 unaccompanied 13- to 17-year-olds and nearly 300,000 unaccompanied 18- to 25-year-olds experience homelessness in Texas over the course of a year. Youth experiencing homelessness tend to hide and “fly under the radar” because of the stigma or fear of being placed in foster care or returned to abusive home environments. They often hide by staying with friends or relatives, moving often from place to place (known as couch surfing), and working to avoid being identified as “homeless.”
Youth Homelessness Affects the Whole Community
The lack of adequate support to help youth experiencing homelessness — many of whom have aged out of foster care placements, run away from difficult home environments, or were rejected by parents and forced to leave home — too often leads to dropping out of school, involvement with the criminal or juvenile justice systems, and physical and mental health challenges that go unaddressed and grow worse.
IN OUR WORDS
“There are already so many stressors just being a teenager or a kid, and to throw the housing instability on top of it, it’s almost too much.” —Homeless Liaison
Service Gaps: Shelters, Housing & Other Social Services
Few shelters exist for young people under age 18, and those that do require parental consent. Even with parental consent, funding constraints limit bed availability and may limit the amount of time that a minor can stay in an emergency shelter. Many young adults avoid adult shelters for fear of their safety and report feeling safer on the street than in adult shelters. There are gaps in what services are available and a need for housing and shelters specifically for young people.
IN OUR WORDS
“Seventeen-year-olds are in no man’s land, and it’s really frustrating. CPS is also usually hesitant to get involved with a 17-year-old. But they can’t sign a lease and they can’t go into adult shelters. So I feel really stuck when we get a 17-year-old.” —Austin service provider
A Necessary Ingredient
Reducing or resolving the issue of youth homelessness and improving outcomes for young people is going to require a cohesive approach that brings all child-serving systems together to provide a full continuum of services.
When systems and service providers collaborate, youth experiencing homelessness are provided with increased access to the services they need most, whether it is housing, education or access to mental health professionals. LifeWorks and its community partners, Caritas, SAFE and ECHO, are building a comprehensive, youth-dedicated rapid re-housing collaborative, where youth experiencing homelessness will move into safe, affordable, permanent housing within 45 days of entering LifeWorks’ PORT - a 15-bed transitional living program designed for short term stay.
An Essential Hub
Students experiencing homelessness often find school to be a refuge, somewhere they can find a sense of normalcy. However, a lack of stability outside of school means students experiencing homelessness are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out, be disciplined at school, and be chronically absent. Schools are an important resource in identifying students experiencing homelessness and connecting them with services. At the same time, schools lack adequate funding and struggle to identify all students in need of help. Schools need more resources in order to truly make a difference in the lives of these youth.
IN OUR WORDS
“I’ve been trying to get back into school so I can get a degree and get an awesome career going, but worrying about things like: Is this place I’m staying currently going to be raided by the police? Are they going to cut up the tents like they’ve been doing in some camps around here? How long will I be able to stay? It stresses me out.”
—W.P., Houston youth
Foster Care: Source of Support or Driver of Homelessness?
Foster care can be a solution for youth experiencing homelessness. But, the reality is that some foster care placements result in youth running away, placing them at greater risk for homelessness. Additionally, every year around 1,000 Texas youth “age out” of the foster care system when they turn 18, and these youth are at an increased risk of falling into homelessness. While they can elect to extend their care beyond 18, many choose not to because of negative experiences they have had in foster care. At the same time, many youth who age out feel unprepared to live on their own and say they need more preparation, life skills classes, and hands on experience earlier.
IN OUR WORDS
“I got off the bus, and I started walking. I had no idea where I was going. I had no idea where I was. I was in some random town at the time. I didn’t care where I was. All I cared about was that I was safe. In my eyes, that’s all I cared about. The fact that I was safe.” —Austin youth (on running away from foster care)
“The general population, unfortunately, hasn’t been educated to the fact that homeless youth do exist. They are usually hidden. They are very good at hiding. So you may not see them, but they are out there.” —North Texas service provider
Justice System: Pushing Kids Onto the Street
There are many ways that youth homelessness and the justice system intersect. Running away from home or a foster care placement and behavior linked to experiencing homelessness (for example, curfew violations, panhandling, camping) can be criminalized and punished as violations of the law. In addition, a prior conviction, even for a misdemeanor, can make renting an apartment difficult—and poor transition planning when a youth leaves a juvenile facility or lock-up can make it much harder for a young person to secure stable housing. Homelessness also increases the chances of a young person becoming a victim of crime.
IN OUR WORDS
“I had left my house, and they got me for being a runaway. I was very shocked at how strict…the [punishments] were for being a runaway…I was in detention for two months, and my mom wouldn’t get me out. So then I went to a placement facility out in Bryan, Texas. I did my year of probation out there.” —C.F., Houston youth
I AM BRAVE
About the #WeDoExist Campaign
The #WeDoExist campaign is a joint effort of LifeWorks and Texas Appleseed to raise awareness about youth experiencing homelessness in the state of Texas and offer ways to get involved. The campaign was launched in November 2018 to coincide with National Homeless Youth Awareness Month and National Runaway Prevention Month.
Texas Appleseed is a public interest law center working to change unjust laws and policies that affect Texans, including youth experiencing homelessness. In 2017, Texas Appleseed in partnership with TNOYS released a report on the problems unaccompanied homeless youth face in finding stability, safety, and housing. Texas Appleseed also worked with Baker & McKenzie and Weatherford to create a Homeless Youth Handbook to help youth know their rights and learn about available resources.
LifeWorks is a fearless advocate for youth and families seeking self sufficiency. We are committed to innovative problem solving, shared accountability and relentless focus on achieving real, sustainable and measurable results for the clients we serve. LifeWorks is a leader in Austin’s community effort to end youth homelessness by 2020.
Friends of the Initiative
The Young Adult Resource Center (YARC) connects homeless young adults, ages 18 to 25, to housing and other mainstream supports while providing respite, emergency meals, job coaching, recovery coaching, and non-traditional educational support, tutoring and re-engagement.
Covenant House Texas offers an extensive continuum of care model for homeless youth including mental health and substance abuse counseling, educational and vocational training, transitional and permanent living programs, street outreach and prevention, pastoral ministry and parenting classes in addition to providing the basic necessities of food, clothing, medical care and safe shelter from the streets for youth in crisis.
Promise House moves youth in crisis toward safety and success! Their programs cover the vital needs of teens, including emergency shelter, transitional living, pregnant and parenting teen services, individual, group and family counseling, street outreach and educational intervention.
Montrose Grace Place provides a safe, welcoming environment for vulnerable homeless youth of all sexualities and genders, providing nourishment, healthy relationships, and hope for the future.