Consequences of Homelessness

Due to Thanksgiving this Thursday, I rescheduled my overnight shift for last night, Tuesday. It was interesting to work with a different team of volunteers, but many of the guests were still the same. Since I worked Tuesday, there was no laundry delivery and no need to make bed sets. Instead, I helped set up the bathrooms, which meant I put two bottles of shampoo and conditioner and one bottle of body wash in each shower. ROOTS uses small, hotel sized shampoo and conditioner bottles, and only had one big bottle of body wash in stock. Many of the items ROOTS has for their guests is from donations, so when we are short stuff, we have to request donations and wait for them to come in.

During the evening, I worked bathrooms, which means writing down the names of the guests, the stall they use, and the time that they’re in the bathroom for. We also have to give them 5 minute and 1 minute reminders because they only get 10 minutes to use the bathroom and 15 minutes to take a shower. During this shift, I was reminded that my word choice makes a huge difference with guests. I accidentally told the other volunteer working bathrooms with me last night that a guest needed a 5 minute warning, instead of a 5 minute reminder. The guests do not like to hear the words “bar” or “warning” because it gives the volunteers an air of authority, and even the word “reminder” is pushing it for the guests. The young adults, while they are homeless and seen as a lesser population in society, are not below the volunteers, and that is something that ROOTS tries to exude.

When working at ROOTS, it’s easy to forget that I am in a position of authority by default, simply because I am a volunteer and I am not homeless. However, despite this status, ROOTS strives to break these titles/positions and reaffirm the idea that the young adults are “guests” that the volunteers are there to assist. But, during orientation, we are still taught that other volunteers’ safety and wellbeing comes before the safety and wellbeing of the guests.

For overnight, I took the second shift from 1am-3am. When I woke up, the overnight coordinator and supervisor had kicked two guests out for talking too much and too loudly after lights out. They took their time leaving, but left without putting a fight or complaining. During my shift, I did guest laundry and monitored the bathrooms.

Overnight was pretty uneventful, aside from one guest being up all night. She had come in to shelter late, and asked for ibuprofen. The evening volunteers noted that she seemed very nervous and to keep an eye on her overnight. During my overnight shift, she asked for Benadryl/something for allergies, but ROOTS cannot give out anything other than ibuprofen or aspirin. For the rest of my shift, she stayed in the bathrooms and seemed even more nervous and agitated than before. I never knew what the problem was, but when I woke up at 7 this morning, she seemed in a much better mood.

Young adults are an especially vulnerable population to homelessness, and there are huge consequences of becoming homeless at a young age.

  • Food insecurity
    • Soup kitchens and homeless shelters have nutritious meals available, but this requires young adults to get to the locations and choose to access them. Often times, the recommended nutritional levels for dairy, fruits, and vegetables are not met at these places, either. Studies suggest that homeless youth may experience more serious food insecurity than homeless adults (http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_888.html)
  • Health
    • Because of food insecurity, the health of homeless youth is poor. Many are overweight or obese (which I have noticed at ROOTS) due to inappropriate food consumption. Other health risks associated with youth homelessness are frequent fevers, ear infections (one of the guests had an ear infection today), diarrhea (many of the guests have diarrhea at ROOTS), and bronchitis or asthma. Homeless young adults are also more likely to contract a sexually transmitted infection or become pregnant because of inconsistent condom use, multiple sex partners, or injection drug use (http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_888.html).
  • Mental health and exposure to violence and trauma
    • Mental health problems can be a cause or a consequence of homelessness in young adults. Their mental health can also worsen when they become homeless. There are usually many behavioral problems among homeless youth and mental disorders with impairment. A high proportion of homeless youth have social phobia, major depression (nearly 1 in 5 homeless youth attempts suicide), and/or disruptive behavior http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_888.html).
    • Homeless youth often become homeless because of violence or trauma (see my last blog), but they are also more vulnerable when they become homeless, putting them at a greater risk of experiencing violence on the streets. They are also more vulnerable to physical or sexual victimization, especially for homeless women. One study found that over a third of the adolescents meet the criteria for lifetime PTSD. LGBTQ homeless young adults are even more likely to be victimized on the streets. To cope with these events and being homeless, the majority of youth turn to tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana to self-medicate (http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_888.html).
  • Education
    • Homelessness is a risk factor for poor educational outcomes among young adults. They are more likely to report grade retention, and report missing weeks of school at a time. Homeless young adults are also more prone to changing schools multiple times in a year. Two of the major reasons that impact school success for homeless youth are absenteeism and school mobility. Their mathematics, reading, and spelling scores are often below grade level, and many are eligible for special education evaluation but less than 25% receive it or special education services. They are less likely to graduate high school (http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_888.html).
  • Juvenile delinquency
    • Homeless youth must struggle to survive on the streets, causing them to turn to delinquent strategies on the streets. This can include selling drugs, shoplifting, burglary, robbery, or prostitution. One study found that the longer young adults are homeless, the more likely they are to commit a crime. Another risk factor for committing a crime is the lack of financial assistance from the states (http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_888.html).

Overall, homeless young adults can struggle to re-assimilate into society, lose motivation, and struggle to become independent, successful, and contributing member to their families and communities (https://www.nn4youth.org/wp-content/uploads/IssueBrief_Youth_Homelessness.pdf). On top of the consequences listed above, there are also barriers to employment (https://www.nn4youth.org/wp-content/uploads/IssueBrief_Youth_Homelessness.pdf). Many of the guests at ROOTS have told me about job interviews they have, and I always catch myself wondering if they will make it there on time, if they will look presentable enough to pass as not homeless, and if they will even get the job because of their mental state.

The consequences of homelessness on young adults only prevents them from getting an education, obtaining a job, improving their health, or finding a home. No education means no job, no job means no income, no income means no house or health insurance or way of paying for health care, poor health leads to missing school, missing school leads to lack of education, and on and on and on. Homelessness is a vicious cycle, that if not broken early on in life will only lead to chronic homelessness as an adult.

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