Disproportionately Represented

Tonight I only worked an evening shift from 8pm-11pm. I worked mileu and stage/front table. During both shifts, I started talking with a guest about his heritage and the history of Spain and Indigenous people. He knew SO much history about colonization and wars, and culture! It amazed me how much information he was able to retain. I feel like when I learn about something new, it goes in one ear, stays in my brain for a day, and then goes out the other ear. It really touched me when he told me that this conversation had been nice because he really enjoyed getting to talk to someone about this stuff and share the information.

This is something I have noticed among the guests. First, they all seem to be very knowledgeable in one particular subject. It is amazing what I can learn from some of the guests about history or science or religion. Second, when I talk with them, they always want to talk about what they know, and they no not really pay attention to whether I am responding. I usually just sit there and nod and smile and give them my full attention to let them know I am listening and am interested in what they are talking about. I think most of the guests like having someone they can just share their knowledge with, like the guest I talked with tonight, without having someone contradict them or argue with them.

After he finished talking about the history of Spain, the guest asked me what was important to me about homeless young adults, what did I think about this particular situation. Why was I interested in working with this population? This was the first time a guest had ever asked me a question like this, and it sort of caught me off guard. I responded by saying I think this is a neglected part of the homeless population, that there are not very many shelters specifically for young adults. I also said that I thought this was an important time in people’s lives that could shape the rest of their lives. We as volunteers and other services can play an important role for homeless young adults, helping them to make good decisions for their future.

Homeless young adults are disproportionately represented in the national homeless population. The number of homeless young adults is increasing, despite the decrease in the national homeless population by 2.3% from 2013 to 1014 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25905141, https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773/36509). Each year, there are an estimated 500,000 to 2 million young adults that are homeless in the United States (http://wjn.sagepub.com/content/34/1/97.abstract). Furthermore, almost one-third of the national homeless population are individuals under the age of 25 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26492212).

Homeless young adults are also disproportionately vulnerable to violence and victimization, such as assault (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26492212). Therefore, homeless young adults are more susceptible to injury and illness, as well (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26492212). Young adults are put in danger when they become homeless, and becoming homeless at a young age can lead to them experiencing systemic homelessness or recurring homelessness later in life. One study found that 46% of their study subjects, homeless adults between the ages of 19 and 66 years, had first experienced homelessness before the age of 24 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25905141).

There is also a disproportionate population within the homeless young adult population. Only 5% of the overall youth population in the United States identifies at LGBT, but about 40% of the homeless young adult population are LGBT (http://nationalhomeless.org/campaigns/national-campaign-youth-shelter/). There is a disproportionate number of LGBT homeless youth. This corresponds to one of the reasons young adults become homeless: being rejected by their family because of their sexuality (see my post from November 18, 2016).

Not only are young adults disproportionately represented, but they are a disproportionate number of services available that are specific to the homeless young adult population for them to access. Because of the lack of beds for young adults and the rules for admission into shelters, very few homeless young adults seek shelters (http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/homeless-and-runaway-youth.aspx). On estimate, there are about 4,000 youth shelter beds available in the United States, which is equal to about 1 bed for every 125 homeless young adults (http://nationalhomeless.org/campaigns/national-campaign-youth-shelter/).

Homeless young adults are disproportionately represented and impacted by homelessness. The lack of young adult shelters that can provide a safe place for them to sleep and help them leave the streets only further exacerbates the gap between homeless young adults and the rest of the homeless population.

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