Housing Homeless Youth: Challenges and Consequences

Housing Homeless Youth: Challenges and Consequences

They are no longer children, but not exactly adults. They’ve escaped troubled families, but are left to find a family on the streets. The Valley’s thousands of homeless youth form a highly needy but largely overlooked population of young men and women especially vulnerable to assault, theft, injury, illness and sexual exploitation. Multiple research studies report that some of these youth have fled abusive homes or been expelled. Others have “aged-out” of foster care. Still others struggle with addictions, physical and mental disabilities, a lack of education and employable skills, or juvenile offense records.

In Arizona and elsewhere, the issue of homelessness is usually addressed in terms of adults, who are the majority of homeless individuals. But sound public policy demands that the Valley also assist its homeless youth – who are at high risk of becoming chronically homeless – work through their grief and trauma. Their young age and adaptability give them better odds of emerging as stable, productive citizens. But their window of opportunity closes quickly. The moral argument for helping homeless youth is a familiar one. But the economic argument is equally compelling: These young men and women are facing life with little of the knowledge, skills and emotional stability needed to lead healthy and successful lives, at home and in the workforce. If they fail, everybody pays.

Efforts to help homeless youth are hampered by the inherent difficulties of dealing with individuals who have no fixed address. This is why scholars and social-service practitioners in the Valley and elsewhere emphasize the central importance of housing as a stabilizing platform for both safety and therapeutic services. 

PUBLICATION DATE: 2017