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Homeless and Helpless

by Rick Tardiff

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November is Youth Homeless Awareness month. Not a celebration but a month when national organizations like Homeless Youth Among Us.org try to raise the awareness tof the plight of over 1 million children in our country. According to their website over 1.3 million homeless kids are on the street or couch-surfing on any given day. The shocking news for Maine is that there are twelve (12) thousand homeless children right here in our state, on our streets. Sleeping on floors and couches, living in tents and railway cars. (Homeless Youth Among Us) Don't you think its time to get these kids off the streets? In a country that leads the world in resources isn't it time to get our children off the streets and into safe, permanent homes.

There is a perception that young people on the streets in Maine are out of control teenagers who refuse to go home and live with rules and consequences. How come they aren't in school we ask? The general public bears witness to their underage smoking and menacing behaviors in public places every day. A sign of the times you say, back in the day we had strong communities and neighborhoods with unlocked doors where children weren't left on the streets. The State of Maine has truancy laws that seem to be getting ignored by parents, children and the education authorities. The courts appear to be helpless in controlling petty crimes while drug use seems to be on the rise in our cities and towns.

Let us imagine that everyone in the state opened their doors and threw out all their pets. Left unattended for any amount of time the ones who survived would resort to all kinds of disruptive behaviors to get food and other basic needs. They would run in packs, creating their own social criteria for safety and peer acceptance, not unlike these kids. No longer wanted by the people they thought loved them they would begin to display all sorts of anti-social behaviors. These pets would be better off at home, and so would our children.

The fact is that "homeless youth are more at risk for socially unacceptable behavior, inadequate social skills, psychological devastation and delayed mental and physical development."(National Alliance to End Homelessness) There is consensus among the three teenage homeless shelters in the state that these kids are throwaways not runaways. Stand up for Kids.org makes a great point on their website; "kids don't want to live on the streets! Yet they tell you that living on the streets is fun and exciting. That they have no responsibilities! That they want to live on the streets! These statements are easier to say than to be honest and say, "I'm here because no one wants me.""(Standupforkids)

Homeless youth often come from disrupted and abusive home environments. According to Youth Noise.com, 40% to 60% have a history of physical abuse or severe family conflict. (Youth noise) They also come from low-income communities. Which doesn't bode well in the current economic state of the country. Maine ranks #16 in the country of children living in poverty, and #7 in the percentage of teens not attending school and not working. (Kids Count)

Providing a long-term safe haven for the homeless youth in our state would be a staggering proposition even in the best economic climate. There are some children within this population that would be hard to reach. They have been so damaged by adults in the past that they have become skeptical of grownups that are trying to help them. The State of Maine has a ten year plan to end homelessness which has brought together the different agencies and services who deal with all homelessness, adult and youth. The Department of Human Services spends millions of dollars towards child protective services in this state. Locally the Shaw House in Bangor provides a youth shelter, basic center drop in, transitional program and a street outreach component to work with homeless and at risk youth through age 20. These services and resources do start to address the plight of some of these street kids.

The long-term solution to homeless youth is a strong community, an awareness and understanding that these children are the same children that live next door. The new face of homelessness doesn't have an unkempt beard or wear a long coat. They go to school with your kids. They could be a nephew, a niece or one of the kids on your son or daughters baseball team. Once we understand who these kids are we can reach out to them as a community. With community supports young people can return to where they came from and become part of the neighborhood again. Only as a community can we watch over our young, something we see in nature everyday.

Works Cited

  1. http://www.homelessyouthamongus.org
  2. 2009 Kids Count data book. The Annie E. Casey Foundation. www.aecf.org
  3. http://www.endhomelessness.org
  4. http://www.standupforkids.org
  5. http://www.youthnoise.com