By SOPHIA ROTHMAN, age 11
Briana DeMaio has been homeless since she was 12, when she and her family were kicked out of their Portland, ME, home six years ago. Every night, she struggles to find somewhere to sleep. Whether it’s on a friend’s couch or in a shelter, nothing is worse than sleeping outside, she told the New York Times.
“I was scared out of my wits,” she said about her first time sleeping outside. “I never thought it would get that bad for me.”
Currently, there are about 1.6 million homeless kids in the United States—an all-time high—according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.
Kids can become homeless because their families are homeless. Lack of affordable housing is one big contributor to homelessness. There are almost twice as many low-income would-be renters as there are available apartments, according to ThinkProgress.
Around 370,000 homeless children are on their own without their parents in a given week because they ran away or were kicked out. Up to 60 percent of all unaccompanied homeless youth were abused in their homes, and up 40 percent are LGBTQ. In Cincinnati, OH, Dedrick Hall was kicked out at age 17 when he came out to his mother as bisexual. Similarly, the 2014 documentary about youth homelessness in Chicago, The Homestretch, featured Kasey, who left home after coming out to her family as lesbian.
“Many LGBTQ youth fled homophobic or transphobic families or foster homes and have been forced to survive on the streets,” Anya Mukarji-Connolly, supervising attorney, LGBTQ Law Project at the New York Legal Assistance Group, told IndyKids.
School isn’t easy for homeless children either. Eighty-seven percent of homeless children are enrolled in school, but only 77 percent attend regularly. Homeless kids often move around a lot, making them twice as likely to repeat a grade, according to the organization Doorways for Women and Families. They’re also sick four times as often, and go hungry twice as often.
The government contributes funds to help the homeless, but it defines homelessness as people living on the streets or in shelters. Homeless families that “couch surf” by staying with friends or extended family end up getting less help.
Activists are working to help homeless children find permanent housing. Doorways for Women and Families helps homeless parents find jobs. In the last year, 83 percent of families leaving their shelter found permanent housing. Other organizations, like the Ali Forney Center in New York City and Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco, CA, provide housing and support for LGBTQ youth.
“Children can and do recover from being homeless, but they need services and support to do so, often even after they leave shelter,” Laura Pennycuff, grants director at Doorways for Women and Families, told Indykids.
LGBTQ: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer
Homophobic: Fear or hatred of people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual
Transphobic: Fear or hatred of transgender people, individuals who identify as a different gender than the sex they were assigned at birth