Homeless Youth, Hidden in Plain Sight

May 1, 2014 – Newsletter Article

When most people envision “homelessness”, many picture tattered clothing, meager food provisions, and shopping carts or backpacks holding the entirety of these individuals’ belongings. However, youth homelessness often looks a little different. At this stage in life remaining “normal” is the youth’s first priority. A youth would do anything possible to maintain as stable an environment as they possibly can. The issue of youth homelessness is so foreign to most individuals because to a very great extent it is hidden and unknown. In the Redlands Unified School District, there are approximately 1,400 classified homeless² youth attending high school. You may wonder why you don’t see these 1,400 youth on street corners with tattered clothing and signs asking for spare change …it’s because they don’t want to be seen. They don’t want others to know that they are homeless or struggling.                                    

Many would be shocked to find that our youth often look like any other typical high school student. Some dress hip and up-to-date, others have gadgets like phones and mp3 players, several of our youth even have bikes, skateboards, or a small form of transportation. To a general observer, these youth show typical characteristics of any normal teen today. What many don’t see is that our youth make great efforts to lead a “normal” lifestyle. What many don’t know is that these gadgets and bicycles and belongings are typically being borrowed, or were given to them by a friend,  or in some instances provided as a donation from YouthHope.

So often we judge the needs of others based on what we see. We evaluate “how needy” an individual is based on what we think they own. But this doesn’t work so well with these youth as they are very well-practiced at hiding their homelessness.

At YouthHope we are privileged to serve our youth’s various needs—because to even know about these needs means that we have established enough trust with them to share how we can help them. They ask for bus passes when their guardian has neither vehicle nor income to take them to school. They inquire about housing programs and job opportunities as they couch-surf from friends’ house to friends’ house, trying to gain stability on their own. Some ask for GED tutoring as they realize that this is the next step to moving their life forward.

It is not that they are too proud to ask for help, it is that they are too hurt to think that others care about them. This is the point in life where they are grasping on to their last straws of normality, before it entirely slips away into permanent homelessness…and this is where we try to break that cycle.

 

 

 

²McKinney Vento Act defines “homeless” as any individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence