The housing crisis has worsened over the past decade. Research shows that the number of housing units per 1000 people in the United States has decreased. This, plus other social, psychological, and environmental factors, has led to an increase in unsheltered homelessness.
Moreover, approximately 30% of people experiencing homelessness are under the age of 24. These figures also change depending on intersectional factors. For example, LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk of negative experiences, and Native American youth are two times more likely to experience homelessness.
Today, April 19, marks Youth Homelessness Matters Day. In order to work together with youth who are experiencing homelessness, there are ways for us to take action. Here are eight:
1. Be aware of your biases
Before you take action, self-reflect on your own biases and privileges. Start by asking yourself questions such as “What is my stance on the issue of homelessness?” and “What are the causes of homelessness?” Once you answer these questions, you may have a better understanding of your perceptions.
2. Learn about the myths of homelessness
Learn about the myths of homelessness to see how you can best support youth without housing. Some myths are that unhoused people choose to be homeless, need to find a job to get out of the cycle, and are too lazy.
In reality, there are plenty of factors which cause homelessness. Some of these factors are out of a person’s control, such as a job loss resulting from an economic downturn or a change in family dynamics.
For youth specifically, many are homeless due to unsafe living conditions and relationship conflicts. However, employers continuously discriminate against these youth. And because it’s difficult to study and maintain a job, many unhoused youth find themselves in a vicious cycle.
3. Attend workshops
If you want to learn more about youth experiencing homelessness, look around for workshops around your area. Throughout these workshops, you may interact with different people who have lived experience. You can also interact with professionals who work with unhoused youth on a daily basis.
4. Educate others about youth experiencing homelessness
After deconstructing your own biases and learning about the multifaceted causes of homelessness, you can educate others within your community. Whenever someone makes a disparaging comment, let them know the statement is a myth and call them out.
5. Provide a listening ear for the youth
If you happen to work and interact with unhoused youth, provide a listening ear for them. When they come up to you and open up, empathize with them and let them know their feelings are valid. Instead of giving advice, ask them open-ended questions like “How does this make you feel?” or “How are you coping with these events in your life?” By doing so, you’re creating a safe space for them to speak their thoughts and pour out their emotions.
6. Understand what the youth needs
There’s a difference between providing the youth with resources you think they need, versus understanding what they actually need. Every youth is different, so they may need different resources. In order to understand what they need, ask them questions related to their ambitions and see how you can best support them.
7. Ensure privacy and confidentiality
When youth are speaking about their experiences, let them know the information they share stays between you two. In this case, you’re making a confidential agreement with them and are mindful of their wishes.
8. Engage with other levels of government and organizations
If you feel that taking more action is necessary, don’t be afraid to speak up. When there aren’t any shelter beds, write a letter to the mayor about the demand for housing within the city. Moreover, you can reach out to non-profit organizations, especially those that are primarily housing-related.
The number of youth experiencing homelessness continues to increase every year as a result of inflation and housing shortages. However, we can come together and collaborate with the youth to ensure they receive access to basic needs. Remember, as an ally, you’re there to walk hand-in-hand with the youth, rather than being a savior. Make sure you continue to educate yourself and self-reflect, as those will always be the foundations of allyship.