Imagine trying to graduate from high school, not knowing where your next meal will come from or where you’ll sleep at night.
Every night, 2,500 young people in Minnesota are homeless. Catholic Charities and many of our partners are working to reverse this trend during the 2013 legislative session.
These youth aren’t those who are merely facing the typical teenage years striving for independence in a home with disgruntled parents. Instead, many are kids who may have fallen through the cracks in Minnesota’s child welfare system or aged out of the system while not yet “grown up.” More than half, 56 percent, were told to leave home or were locked out.
These kids aren’t runaways or “homeless by choice.” They are young people at risk. They may have experienced domestic abuse, family homelessness, drug violence, parental income levels that make financial support impossible, the trauma of bouncing from one foster home to another, mental health issues, academic failure, or the failures of the child protection, juvenile justice and education systems to intervene before the situation came to a crisis point.
Every night on the street puts them at increased risk of physical and sexual abuse, poor health and suicide.
More help needed
Currently the state spends $238,000 every two years to assist the more than 2,000 youth who are homeless or precariously housed. Social service providers and foundations along with the support of some local units of government have done what they could to patch together interventions that may support some of these young people.
But there are only 108 shelter beds for homeless youth in the entire state.
We believe the state should join these other providers by increasing its investment in these youngsters.
Catholic Charities and our partners are requesting that the state increase its investment in this biennial budget.
This modest investment is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. It is right because these youth have assets and potential that should not be left to the vagaries of the streets. We can ill afford to waste one young person’s gifts in an increasingly aging society. They deserve our investment and so do we.
It is the smart thing to do because not investing will cost us dearly down the road in lost wages, lost taxes and added expenditures for any number of services. These services will be all the more costly as homelessness, ill health and poverty become more and more a part of the fabric of the lives of these youth.
‘We can do better’
Please join with us by talking with your legislator. Catholic Charities knows, through our own work at Hope Street, that we do not need to lose these kids to the streets. Street outreach, transitional shelter, home placement and case management are working solutions and have made the difference between the weariness of the streets and hope for the future.
No young person in Minnesota should have to go even one night without a safe place to sleep. We can do better. Please join us in addressing this critical statewide issue with a specific solution by supporting the funding of the Homeless Youth Act at $8 million this legislative session.
Tomlin is vice president for social justice advocacy at Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.