It is estimated that there are between 1.6 – 1.7 million runaway or homeless youth under the age of 18 and an estimated 2.1 million youth adults aged 18 – 24 in the United States. While the overall homeless population in the nation decreased between 2011 and 2012, it increased in 29 states. How do we dramatically reduce homelessness in the United States in the next ten years?
Evidence has shown that incorporating prevention strategies and thoroughly evaluating them will ultimately keep youth and young adults from becoming homeless as they get older. In downtown Seattle approximately 50 percent of chronically homeless people say they experienced homelessness before their 25th birthday.
Homelessness is multifaceted and it needs a multifaceted problem-solving approach. Each neighborhood and city has unique set of resources and needs as does each person. Combining a variety of proven community-based programming models can create a much needed space for unaccompanied youth and young adults without homes. This may involve creating special neighborhood resource teams that work with extended families and friends, planning longitudinal research to better inform us on what is happening and what isn’t, introducing innovative housing supports like a co-housing model that encourages a healthy community, connecting with universities and community colleges to create avenues for long-lasting professional development, and initiating inter-generational as well as peer-mentoring to foster personal development. There are multiple examples for each of these models that are already working in this and other capacities around the world. The challenge is how do we incorporate a variety of working models into an effective, cohesive, and instructive whole?
Having shelter and a space to call ‘home’ is a basic need that no one should have to do without. I challenge us to cut the nation’s overall homeless population in half by the year 2025, and I believe this journey starts with creating a space for unaccompanied youth and young adults without homes.