(Sharing some of my research for my new novel A Rebel Comes of Age.)
In the US, children under 18 represent one-third of the US homeless population. 2.8 million American children have at least one episode of homelessness every year, while 1.35 million are permanently homeless.
Sadly it’s not a new problem. Seattle first became concerned about their homeless teens in the 1990s. In 1999, shortly before moving to New Zealand, I worked in a community clinic with a special outreach program for homeless teenagers.
Prior to the 2008 economic meltdown, approximately ten percent of homeless teens had access to state and city-run shelters. Over the last five years, chronic state and city budget deficits have forced most of them to close.
US Teen Homelessness Rivals the Third World
In third world countries, homeless children are called “street kids.” The US government prefers to call them “unaccompanied minors.” Giving it a fancy name on it doesn’t hide the fact that rate of homeless American children per capita is worse than some third world countries.
Among countries who keep a count of homeless children under 18, India has the highest rate of street children per capita, with 1 homeless child per 61 residents. Egypt is next with 1 per 110, then Pakistan (1 per 120), Kenya (1 per 133), Russia (1 per 141), and Congo (1 per 148).
The per capita rate of child homelessness in the US is 1 per 245 residents. This is worse than the Philippines (1 per 360), Honduras (1 per 370), Jamaica (1 per 419), Uruguay (1 per 1,000), and Morocco (1 per 1066). Germany, in contrast, has 1 homeless child per 4,100 residents.
Why American Teens Become Homeless
Approximately fifty percent of homeless teenagers wind up on the streets due to conflict with their parents. Another twenty percent are there due to a breakdown of their foster care placement. Others are homeless because their parents are homeless.
Of teenagers made homeless by family conflict, forty percent are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual teens whose parents refuse to accept their sexuality (25% of LGBT teens are rejected by their parents). Another large proportion are victims of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse. Forty percent of homeless teenagers report being beaten. Twenty-five percent report a history of sexual abuse. Forty percent have parents who are mentally ill or who have substance abuse problems. Ten percent have run away because they’re pregnant. Some leave home because of alcohol and drug problems of their own.
Many homeless teens work at minimum wage jobs that don’t pay enough for an apartment. However faced with a (true) unemployment rate over 20%, most face long term unemployment.
Good links regarding teen homelessness:
In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.
$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords: