Last night was my third overnight shift, and at this point, I feel very comfortable doing the laundry, doing walk arounds, monitoring the bathrooms, and am getting used to the timing of the shifts during the night.
Before the lights were turned off, I spent a majority of the evening playing Uno and Connect Four with one of the guests. I was able to learn about his situation and why he was homeless. What continues to baffle me about some of the guests at ROOTS is that they have told me they have family members (mothers, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.) who are not homeless, but never mention anything about living with them. For example, last night I learned that the guest I was playing Uno with couldn’t go home because of his abusive father, but that his cousin (or aunt?) works at the UW. Once I learned this, I couldn’t stop wondering why he wasn’t living with his cousin/aunt, or why his cousin/aunt was not reaching out to him.
One of the criteria for staying at ROOTS is that the guests must have a government issued ID by the fifth stay or show proof that they are working with a case manager to get one, and last night one of the guests had reached his fourth stay and was reminded to bring an ID or proof of him working to get one the next time he stayed at ROOTS. He replied with, “I’ll reach out to my father and see if he can help me.” Later, this morning during clean up, I overheard a guest call his father and tell him he’d be “arriving” in about an hour and half.
Many of the guests I have interacted with seem to have family that they can reach out to, or at least know of family in the area who aren’t homeless. It confuses me why those guests aren’t getting support from their family, especially when they feel comfortable enough to call their parents or talk to their uncles. The guest I was playing Uno with told me that when he goes back to his fathers place to get clothes, he has to go with his uncle, which also made me wonder why the uncle doesn’t offer to help him? These questions prompted me to research why youth and young adults become homeless.
Besides parental abuse, other reasons why young adults become homeless are:
- Relying on insecure forms of accommodation, leaving care, and living with a step-parent (Hodgson, Shelton, van den Bree, & Los, 2013).
- Economic hardship (National Network for Youth, 2015).
- Residential instability can lead a youth to seek shelter elsewhere, as their parents are unable to support them. Teen pregnancy is also another reason that young adults encounter residential instability (National Network for Youth, 2015).
- Extreme disconnection from education, the workforce, and social support (National Network for Youth, 2015).
- Family crisis is the most prevalent reason young adults become homeless (“Facts About Homeless Youth,” 2016).
- This can include family dysfunction, rejection, and conflict such as child abuse and/or neglect, domestic violence, and parental substance use. Youth leave because it is too dangerous for them to stay. Rejection from family includes homophobia, which causes about 25% of youth to leave their home (National Network for Youth, 2015).
- The young adults experiences sexual, physical, or emotional abuse; the death of a parent; and/or shelter placement (Nyamathi et al., 2012).
- Mar et al. found that emotional and physical abuse and emotional neglect were individually associated with age at first becoming homeless in youth.
- Being involved in the child welfare system (National Network for Youth, 2015).
- Between 23,000 to 27,000 youth age out of the foster system every year, and 12-36% of youth ages 18 to 21 who age out of the foster care system become homeless (National Network for Youth, 2015).
- Many youth in the foster system run away or are forced out of their foster care due to conflict and/or rejection (National Network for Youth, 2015).
- These youth are less likely to graduate from high school or college, thus limiting their chances of employment and leads to financial instability (National Network for Youth, 2015).
- Being involved in the juvenile justice system (National Network for Youth, 2015).
- Much of this involvement is due to arrests for activities associated with survival on the streets. Furthermore, many of the youth did not acquire any skills to successfully survive on their own after they exit the system (National Network for Youth, 2015).
One a youth becomes homeless, many of them do not seek shelter because of stigma/shame of being homeless and self-reliance/pride, lack of youth-focused shelters in non-central locations, lack of transportation, adverse shelter conditions, staff attitudes and you-specific services, and restrictive shelter rules (Ha, Narendorf, Santa Maria, & Bezette-Flores, 2015).
After reading the reasons why young adults become homeless, it is easy to see how the environment a youth grows up in can shape their future, increasing or decreasing their chances of becoming homeless later in life. Homelessness is a difficult cycle to break. Once a youth becomes homeless, it becomes more and more difficult for them to maintain their education and develop the skills necessary to make a successful living in society. Furthermore, if a youth is fleeing from someone because of abuse or rejection, then they must remain under the radar. This is one of the reasons why staff and volunteers are unable to give out information on guests, even/especially to people who claim to be family members.
After reading the reasons for youth homelessness, I can understand why the guests at ROOTS may not be able to return home or seek support from other family members. Not only would it be embarrassing for them to ask aunts, uncles, or cousins for help, but if they have been rejected by their parents, then they may feel that other family members may reject them, too.
Returning to the guest I played uno with, he may not be supported by his uncle or cousin because they may not know about his homelessness, or they may not be able to help/support him themselves. Maybe he is ashamed to admit his situation to his other family members, or maybe his whole family will reject him or abuse him like his father did. Whatever the reason, the situation is much more complicated that I or anyone else can comprehend.
One thing that is important to remember about the guests at ROOTS is that they did not choose to be homeless, no homeless person wants to be homeless (one of the misconceptions I stated in my previous post). As a person who is not homeless, it is easy for me and other non-homeless people to simplify the guests’ situations, to wonder why they don’t just call up another family member for help. As a volunteer at ROOTS, it’s important to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions.