Study: Number of homeless youth in U.S. increased by nearly 100% in the last 10 years
SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- A new study shows an increase in homelessness around the country, but their ages are decreasing.
Young people under the age of 18 are struggling without a roof over their heads now more than ever and that’s true in South Bend as well.
ABC57’s Tiffany Salameh met with a few young people who struggled with homelessness before their 18th birthdays.
“It’s scary,” Zackiria Sazar said, who was homeless during his high school years.
“I ended up on the streets around 9 or 10,” Ryan Clarkson said, who was without a roof over his head at just 9 years old.
Ryan and Zack’s struggles were similar, both choosing to leave abusive homes.
“I was not able to continue living with my mother we had some very severe disagreements,” Ryan said.
Ryan turned to the streets before hitting double digits and sadly, Ryan is not alone is his struggle.
New data from the National Center for Homeless Education shows an all-time high number of homeless youth under 18 with nearly 1.4 million students experiencing homelessness in the U.S.
That number has increased by nearly 100 percent in the last 10 years. Christina McGovern, St. Joseph County’s Youth Service Bureau Director, said an increase in homeless youth is stemming partly from abuse at home.
“One of the things our staff is seeing as the reasons why young people are homeless or coming to us for help is somewhat connected to the opioid or drug epidemic,” McGovern said. “Their home environment is really terrible. If you have a parent that’s using drugs and alcohol, they’re not shopping for food, they’re not keeping the house clean, they’re not doing these other things so a young person may have to choose, do I stay here in this unsafe environment or do I take my chances out.”
Zack, like Ryan, chose to take his chances calling his mom unstable.
“She was very abusive,” Zack said. “She and I always fought and everything else and I just left home because I couldn’t deal with it. I, myself, chose to be homeless because I didn’t want to deal with my mother. A lot people don’t get that, they see them out on the street, and they think oh they can just go back to their family, some on them don’t want to go back and some of them don’t have a family anymore.”
Both Zack and Ryan want people to take homelessness among young people more seriously. McGovern said that young people who struggle with homelessness struggle with invisibility because they don’t look like a typical homeless person.
“The thing is a lot of people who are out there are ignored,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t what the weather is or how lethal it can become. It doesn’t matter that some people can end up starving out there, all that really matters is that they are not paying customers and they don’t have a home or a job. So they’re not always considered to be people.”
At the Youth Service Bureau drop-in center in South Bend, young people can drop in for a bite to eat, to wash their clothes, grab supplies and also for help.
“We don’t want to them to take their chances out on the street if they feel unsafe and they need to go someplace, we want them to come to us and we can help connect them,” McGovern said.
YSB also offers resources like job training for teens and they’re always looking for help.
If there’s a way you think you can help out in or donate, you can stop by the YSB drop-in center at 1330 Lincolnway East in South Bend.