“Unaccompanied” Youth


Photo of homeless population in Los Angles. Covered by Eyewitness News

Milan Washington, Staff Writer

Sad. Alone. Confused. Lost. 

About 1.3 million homeless youth around the world are living on the streets, sleeping in abandoned buildings, or crashing with friends and strangers. California shelters more than 200,000 homeless youth itself.

Alyson, a current runaway, has been homeless since the age of fifteen and has spent three years on the streets. Many homeless youth cases start as runaways just like her.

According to The National Runaway Switchboard (NRS), one in seven young people between the ages of 10 and 18 will leave their home either because their parents can’t financially afford to provide the essentials needed to live forcing them to leave, or they are being mistreated.

For Alyson, it was both. She shared that, “[her] mom died four months before [she] ran away and [her] dad started drinking heavily, wasting his paychecks on booze rather than feeding his daughter.” During this time, she was constantly being beaten, battered, and bruised, struggling to get enough to eat until eventually saying enough is enough.

Unfortunately, the NRS reports that homeless youth are at a higher risk for “physical abuse, sexual exploitation, mental health disabilities, substance abuse, and death,” with around 5,000 of dying each year.

“Everyday is a fight for my life,” Alyson stated. “But each fight on the street is easier than the one waiting for [her] back at home.”

Being a homeless child, there is also an increased risk of “severe anxiety and depression, suicide, poor health and nutrition, and low self-esteem,” this along with the desperation of having no income can lead a youth to begin trading sex for clothes, a bite to eat, and perhaps a place to sleep, a practice commonly known as “Survival Sex.”

It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that there is an over-representation of homeless youth who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning (LGBTQ). These individuals face the risk and threat of physical and sexual violence on the streets at a higher rate than homeless heterosexual youth.

Although many shelters in the area are known to provide shelter and support for homeless individuals looking to turn their lives around a majority of them don’t target younger age groups that need assistance.

A representative from Upward Bound House has shared that children “must come in with an adult, if children were to come alone [they] would call the authorities.”

Not only do homeless youth often struggle with finding shelter, it is also very difficult for homeless youth to attend school “due to lack of required enrollment records” along with no way to get to and from school. This alone has led to some 75 percent of homeless or runaway youth dropping out of school.

Without these two important necessities, supporting themselves financially is more grueling and makes it harder for them to achieve the better life that they are often searching for.