EDITORIAL: Support homeless youth in York

York Dispatch
Student ambassador Nevaeh Williams, 10, helps pile some of the donations given by students and attendees at the 2016 MLK America's Sunday Supper at Lincoln Charter School.

In the past two months, homelessness, an issue of significant national import, was addressed here in York in two major ways.

On Thursday, Feb. 4, an annual homeless count was conducted as part of a mandated survey process. The survey, required by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), is conducted by the county's Continuum of Care, a program under the umbrella of the county's planning commission that works with the homeless population.

Prior to that, at the fourth annual MLK Supper on Sunday, Jan. 17, local officials and homeless advocates raised awareness specifically on the issue of youth homelessness.

We are particularly impressed by the level of concern exhibited by officials on the subject of youth homelessness and hopeful that will continue to translate into programs and policy to tackle the issue in York.

And it looks like that is already underway.

For example, Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, has announced a Jeans for Teens program in association with DoSomething.org to allow local teens to get involved and help out the local homeless youth.

An estimated 1,500 school-age children in York County went without a permanent home in 2015, Schreiber said, adding the true figure could be closer to 2,000.

Across the country, the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare says there are between 1 million and 1.7 million homeless youth who have run away or have been asked to leave their homes. Other statistics, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, include:

  • According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 61.8 percent of homeless youth reported depression, 71.7 percent reported experiencing major trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, 79.5 percent experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for more than a month;
  • According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 25 percent of former foster youth became homeless 2.5 to 4 years after exiting care;
  • Five to 7 percent of American youths become homeless in any given year;
  • Homeless youth are evenly male-female, although females are more likely to seek help through shelters and hotlines;
  • According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, between 6 percent and 22 percent of homeless girls are estimated to be pregnant;
  • Seventy-five percent of homeless or runaway youth have dropped out or will drop out of school;
  • Between 20 percent and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness also provides guidelines for preventing youth homelessness, which we would encourage local leaders to make a part of their strategy. The group’s “blueprint community response” is meant to advise local leaders. They include:

  • Prevent youth from becoming homeless by identifying and working with families who are at risk of fracturing;
  • Effectively identify and engage youth at risk for, or actually experiencing, homelessness and connect them with trauma-informed, culturally appropriate, and developmentally and age-appropriate interventions;
  • Intervene early when youth do become homeless and work toward family reunification, when safe and appropriate;
  • Develop coordinated entry systems to identify youth for appropriate types of assistance and to prioritize resources for the most vulnerable youth;
  • Ensure access to safe shelter and emergency services when needed;
  • Ensure that assessments respond to the unique needs and circumstances of youth and emphasize strong connections to and supported exits from mainstream systems when needed;
  • Create individualized services and housing options tailored to the needs of each youth, and include measurable outcomes across key indicators of performance, including education and employment.

Those in attendance at the supper – including Mayor Kim Bracey, York City Councilman Michael Helfrich, Councilwoman Sandie Walker, County Commissioner Susan Byrnes, Lincoln Charter School principal Leonard Hart and school director of special education Deb Savage, Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness (ECYEH) Region 3 coordinator Sonia Pitzi and Schreiber – are to be commended for lending their talents and energy to tackling this dire situation by speaking out at the Sunday supper.

This exemplifies the spirit of community service championed by Martin Luther King, Jr. It is an appropriate way to honor his memory through community action. This is not just a problem for the homeless youth, this is a problem for all of us and we all must seek to contribute to its solution.

It’s hard to fathom disenfranchised youth left out on the street with no physical, psychological or emotional support. Raising the awareness among local youth about their peers’ homelessness is as significant as clothing homeless teens.

By encouraging local teens to participate in the Jeans for Teens program, Schreiber and DoSomething.org have deftly coordinated educating local teenagers with the very practical result of providing clothing for homeless teens who can use it.

Putting these groups together is a great step toward making the youth homeless issue an issue of not only all youth, but of all in the community.

Everyone in the community must get involved  to lend vital support to youth with no place to go.