By Nicolle Berroa, age 13
As the United States grapples with a global health pandemic, the crisis of youth houselessness steadily worsens. Most recent data on the rate of unhoused children from 2017 to 2018 found that youth houselessness was at its highest point in over a dozen years. The report, released by the National Center for Homeless Education in late January, stated that more than 1.5 million public school students reported being unhoused during that year. Houselessness was a concern in the city prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but now these numbers are likely to skyrocket with the end of the eviction moratorium and federal unemployment benefits.
Eviction moratoriums around the United States began to end in July, but the Centers for Disease Control has now made it illegal to evict tenants who do not pay rent until December 31 if they meet set requirements. However, given that rent has not been cancelled, this extension will likely just delay these inevitable evictions. The impending “eviction tsunami” could see as many as 30 million people across the country losing their homes, according to NPR. When these evictions take place, “the number of unhoused children in the U.S. will undoubtedly go up,” said Olivia Maley, associate director of mentor programs for StandUp for Kids in Atlanta, in an interview with IndyKids. These evictions will likely have long-lasting impacts on the rate of unhoused people in the United States. “Many rentals don’t accept tenants with an eviction. This is just one of the reasons why many struggle to find stable housing,” said Maley.
Adding to this tsunami, on March 27, the government enacted the CARES Act, which increased federal unemployment benefits by up to $600 weekly. However, this benefit ended July 31, and there are no solid plans to extend federal unemployment despite the fact that the pandemic is ongoing.
Why is there a high number of unhoused youth? “Oftentimes there’s domestic violence or mental health issues in the family,” said Sr. Nancy Downing, executive director of the Covenant House in New York, in an interview with NBC New York. “For our LGBT youth, they get kicked out of the home because parents aren’t willing or able to deal with it at the moment.” Around 77.5% of youths leave home because of abusive relationships with parents. Other contributing factors include financial hardship, racial inequalities, mental health and substance abuse disorders. Many youths and children experience houselessness when whole families become unhoused. “The cost of living has gone up while wages have not, making more young people and families at increased risk of homelessness” said Maley.
Moreover, the pandemic is not helping in the struggle to fight houselessness. Shelters have been closing as they do not have enough space to follow social distancing guidelines. The Northern Kentucky Convention Center was used as an emergency shelter for the unhoused but was closed for not adequately accommodating social distancing. Downing stated in May that the Covenant House in New York houses an estimated 300 youths per night. Before the coronavirus pandemic, they held 1,300 children a year.
The Covenant House has managed to stay open. The organization has used their offices to quarantine youth suffering from COVID-19. They have a federally certified health center where medical staff attend to those quarantined in the shelter. Another organization fighting to help unhoused children is Youth Spirit Artworks, an interfaith job-training nonprofit committed to unhoused and low-income youth. They helped build 24 tiny homes in the East Bay, California. StandUp for Kids is on a mission to “end the cycle of youth homelessness,” and is keeping unhoused kids safe and continuing to teach them. These organizations are doing all they can to brighten the paths of the unhoused children and youths during these tough times.
Experiencing houselessness as a child may hinder a young person’s capacity to reassimilate into society, dishearten their motivation, and prevent them from becoming self-sufficient, prosperous and contributing members of their families and society. Houselessness brings misery to youth in the form of mental health problems, substance abuse, victimization and criminal activity, and barriers to education and employment. The percentages of major depression, conduct disorder and post-traumatic stress syndrome were found to be three times as high among runaway youth as among the general youth population, according to a report by the National Coalition for Homeless Youths.
If these youths are not assisted, they’ll likely become an addition to the population of habitually unhoused adults. “It is essential to dismantle the view that homelessness and poverty are intergenerational,” said Diane Nilan, founder and executive director of HEAR US Inc. in an interview with the Progressive. “They don’t have to be. Homelessness is a product of social construction and it is particularly detrimental to children.”
Eviction moratoriums: Landlords are temporarily blocked from evicting tenants
Reassimilate: To conform or adjust to societal customs again
Intergenerational: Existing or occurring between generations
Detrimental: Tending to cause harm