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Part 2: Homeless Youth

One of the major barriers in the recovery of homeless youth is overcoming the emotional and psychological stress. “Homelessness is a very personal issue, sometimes you get a lot of people who don’t really like to talk about it, and I feel like that’s what you need to do to release all of it,” Corey said.

June 5, 2013

Teens often experience homelessness because someone––or multiple people––let them down. They’re not lazy, nor are they rule-breakers. Instead, they were rejected, they were abused, they didn’t receive the love that all children deserve. It takes time to be able to accept these traumatic experiences and effort to get past the deep emotions that accompany them. “One of the things I hear most from kids is just a deep sadness around feeling rejected, they have to overcome it. All we can be is consistent and be here and listen, and they can cuss us out and we’re not going to treat them any differently,” Clow said.

Homeless youth often feel worthless and deserted, rejected and hopeless. These youth need, require, demand, adults to support them. They need someone, as Clow says, “to plant seeds.” Four words said by Clow’s fifth grade teacher still have an impact on her today. Her teacher said, “Stand up straight, Kristan.” Giving kids this sense of confidence can mean the world of difference in their lives as they move past traumatic events and painful emotions caused by their adverse situations in life.

Yet another challenge that homeless youth face is finding the precarious balance among finishing their education, holding a steady job, finding a place to sleep at night, and figuring out where to get their next meal. It is nearly impossible for youth to do this, so often times, education becomes neglected first, as it is the least required for immediate survival.

An especially challenging hurdle for many homeless teens is that one cannot get a GED until age 19. If a teen misses too much school to catch up or re-enroll, they essentially remain in limbo until they are old enough to study for their GED. Not only can they not earn their degree until this point, but it also becomes increasingly difficult for these teens to get a job or housing without any proof of education.

The food shelf in YouthLink’s basement provides canned goods and produce for teens to eat themselves, to contribute the household they stay at, or to trade for a place to sleep.
The food shelf in YouthLink’s basement provides canned goods and produce for teens to eat themselves, to contribute the household they stay at, or to trade for a place to sleep.

Even when homeless teens do stay in school, they struggle to keep up with classmates. “Some of these young kids are in so much crisis at home that they’re coming to school and they’re not prepared to learn,” Clow said. A teen who rides the bus all night to stay warm can’t compete on a test with a student who studies all night at a dining room table and then sleeps eight hours in a warm bed. A student who worries about finding his next meal could not do 50 math problems as well as one who can snack from their fridge all night. “It’s very hard to study for hours when you’re stressing about how you’re going to eat, where you’re going to go after this because the library closes at such and such time,” Corey said.

Most often, people assume homeless youth are no-good runaways. This misconceived vision of homeless youth hurts them not only psychologically, but also affects their chance at success. “I think the biggest challenge that I faced was the perceptions and misconceptions that people had made of me, that since I was a youth that there should be no reason that I was homeless, and I feel like that’s very hard for the youth because we get a lot of blockers in the process that should be so easy,” Corey said.

Because this image of youth homelessness is so different from adult homelessness, the classification of “homeless teens” can be blurry. “A lot of teenagers don’t call themselves homeless, instead they are ‘couch hopping’ or ‘highly mobile,’” Clow said.

YouthLink accepts donated clothing for youth who need new clothes. The clothing shelf and the food shelf at YouthLink will soon be renovated to create a shopping-like experience.
YouthLink accepts donated clothing for youth who need new clothes. The clothing shelf and the food shelf at YouthLink will soon be renovated to create a shopping-like experience.

These precariously housed teens jump from house to house to keep their situations from becoming a burden on anyone, often contributing to the household with food from food shelves. Another challenge for these teens that stay in school is finding clean clothes, so that their classmates won’t know they’re homeless.

Most kids at shelters or in programs across the metro are there to make a difference in their lives. “It’s so eye opening to realize that these are just kids who were in the wrong circumstances and there are no differences between these children and my own children except that they had some bad luck,” Krista Siddiqui said. Siddiqui is the Fund Development Coordinator at YouthLink in downtown Minneapolis.

The stigma not only affects the image of the teens, but also affects their willingness to to get help. “They don’t want to tell people that they’re homeless, that they don’t have a safe place to stay, they don’t want to be picked on in school, they really don’t want their classmates to even know that it’s going on in their life,” Jenny Lock, head of the Suburban Host Home Program said. Teens who feel embarrassed about their situation are far less likely to reach out and receive help, which can only limit their recovery.

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