Young and Homeless
There are innumerable reasons why children and teens can end up being homeless. The National Runaway Switchboard has found that 1 in 7 kids in the United States will run away from home before the age of 18. Studies have shown that the number of homeless youth has increased during this period of economic recession. From 2005-2008, there was a 200% increase in calls to the National Runaway Switchboard from youth indicating mainly economic reasons that led them to run away.
Homeless children and teenagers are at a much higher risk for drug addiction, HIV/AIDS infection, physical abuse, and sexual exploitation. Minnesota police and the legislature have been more proactive about breaking prostitution rings, and with the expertise of non-profits organizations, have helped to get these children and teens into counseling, safe housing, and legally recognized as victims of sex trafficking.
After 48 hours of being on the streets, about one third of children and teens will be approached by someone in the sex trade, according to stats law enforcement officials most often cite. One of the groups at greatest risk for homelessness and sexual abuse are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) youth. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, in June 2009, 20% of homeless youth identified themselves as LGBT compared with 10% of the general youth population. One of the primary reasons is severe family conflict and trauma. However, LGBT youth are twice as likely as heterosexual youth to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12.
Life for LGBT youth does not get any easier on the streets. Studies show that 58.7% of LGBT homeless youth have been sexually victimized compared to 33.4% of heterosexual homeless youth.
This November, when Minnesotans go to the polls to vote on the Same-Sex Marriage Amendment, we need to recognize how many people are being condemned to further stigmatizing and marginalizing if this amendment is passed. Rather than focusing on how to exclude these youth from society, we should be focusing on ways to help them.
We can learn from examples of successful policies in cities like Gainesville, Florida, where city bus drivers are trained to aid any child or teen that asks for help by driving them to a shelter or calling local police who escort them to a youth shelter for counseling and other services. Making buses and bus stops “safe places” for runaways and homeless youth, and creating shelters that are safe for LGBT youth in areas around Minnesota are two small ways in which we can help our communities and homeless youth.