Addition of Policies aimed at Homeless Youth
The Chicago Coalition for the homeless found that almost 25,000 Illinois youth experience homelessness every year, about 9,000 of them in the Chicago area. One-third of this group became homeless due to family conflicts, yet some other reasons included physical or sexual abuse (CCH 2005).
These statistics provide valuable insight on the prevalence of homeless youth in the Chicago area, and the overwhelming need for an improvement in the policies related to youth homelessness. This group displays unique needs that differ from those of the adult and child homeless populations, because many may not meet criteria for foster homes, and yet they are not old enough to secure housing or employment. Therefore, a new grouping of policies that benefits homeless youth must be incorporated to the pre-existing policies for the homeless. The addition of this new grouping of policies would:
- Guarantee the immediate physiological health and safety of homeless youth.
- Increase educational attainment and academic achievement.
- Psychological counseling services for traumatized/abused homeless youth to increase positive youth development.
According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois has seen a sharp increase in the numbers of homeless youth in the last couple of years. Although a specific count has not been conducted since 2005, the number of calls to the National Runaway Safeline by youth saying they are homeless has increased. “In Illinois, more than 10,000 young people called the National Runaway Safeline last year, a full 10 percent of U.S. calls and a 28 percent increase from 2009,” (Hirst, 2013).
Despite these young individuals’ bleak conditions, traditional homeless shelters have turned away many of these individuals due to minimum age restrictions. Also, as seen in the graph below, only 1% of the nation's homeless programs are targeted towards homeless youth. Some researches say that the underlying problems have to do with “persistent problems within the child welfare system,” as well as economic stressors. Additionally, other researchers believe the juvenile justice system and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services may actually contribute to youth homelessness (Hirst, 2013).
Moreover, studies show that homeless youth are at a higher risk for short-term and long- term consequences such as substance abuse, sexual assault, and criminal activity. According to the Safe Horizon Organization, nearly 75% of homeless youth will abuse substances as a method of dealing with traumatic experiences. Robertson and Toro (1999) suggest that homeless youth may experience more serious negative outcomes over the long term, “including higher rates of divorce, arrest, mental disorders, alcohol and drug use, and poor work histories,” (p. 621).
As previously underscored, the homeless youth population is a unique group that is currently neglected by traditional homeless services. Therefore, improvements to current policies must be made to include a distinct grouping of policies specifically for homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 17. These policies would be beneficial for Journeys the Road Home as well, because they could broaden their client- base and extend their services to help this neglected sub-group of homeless. This added segment of policies would be extremely beneficial for securing these young individual’s immediate health and safety, ensuring academic opportunities, and preventing youth from engaging in criminal activity or substance abuse by providing counseling services:
- Addition of an emergency shelter for adolescents and children up to the age of 18
- This would eliminate the chances of assault, rape, or other abuse on these children by family members, or other people on the street.
- These individuals would have access to nutritional food given to them by the organization, reducing the chances of malnutrition or hunger often seen in this population. Some other factors to consider would be to extend services such as Medicaid to this population as well through political advocacy.
- Workforce training services, and/or education services to the homeless youth.
- After school programs could be set up within a community youth homeless shelter so that at-risk youth could improve their grades.
- Workforce training for youth would increase their chances at becoming self-sustaining.
- Psychological Services for traumatized youth
- This would decrease substance abuse, and psychological trauma within this population by using case managers, social workers and other human service-based professionals who are trained in youth interventions.
- Would aid the homeless youth by helping them to cope with trauma or mental health issues.
Overall, the homeless youth populations remain a significant, but often overlooked sub-group of the homeless populations in Chicago and the Northwest suburbs. An improvement to homeless policies in Chicago must be made in order to include a specific focus on homeless youth. By implementing these policy changes, homeless youth could have access to safe shelters designated only for them, additionally, their academic achievements could be ensured through these policies, and lastly, the implementation of trained youth professionals would reduce substance abuse and suicide within this population. These policy changes would be helpful not only for homeless youth as a whole, but would help organizations such as Journeys as well, because it would broaden their client base.
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. (2013). No Youth Alone. Retrieved from:
Hirst, Ellen, J. (2013, May 27). Number of homeless youths on rise, suggests shelter, hotline data. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-05- 27/news/ct-met-homeless-youth-chicago-20130528_1_youths-hotline-shelter
Safe Horizon Organization. (2013). Streetwork: Homeless youth facts. Retrieved from:
Robertson, M. J., & Toro, P. (1999). Homeless youth: Research, intervention, and policy. In L. B. Fosburg, ed. & D. L. Dennis (Eds.), Practical lessons: The 1998 Symposium on Homelessness Research. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from: http://aspe.os.dhhs.gov/progsys/homeless/symposium/3- Youth.htm
Help the children
Homelessness does not discriminate and can be chronic or situational. It affects a variety of people including families with children, young adults, and senior citizens. Children are the ones that are impacted the most because they do not have the role models to help teach them right vs. wrong. Most of them do not have the proper education to help them receive the knowledge they desperately need to help them succeed. There are five rationales in which could help these children go on and live healthier, and longer lives.
There are over 3,000 reported cases of homelessness in all of suburban Cook County. In the Northwest suburbs alone, there are 1,200 homeless people accessing shelters with approximately 400 additional homeless people residing on the streets, in cars and throughout forest preserves. A large portion of homelessness do not have support systems, and are in bad health with no nutrition or medication. There are over 15,000 homeless children in Chicago Public Schools. Nearly 4,000 of which were unaccompanied youth. 32% of the total Chicago homeless population were children.
Cause and Effect
Children that are homeless lack self-sufficiency skills. They have decreased educational opportunities, considering they do not have much resources or tools to help them increase knowledge. They lack stability, in which they are constantly moving around, and do not have proper shelter. The children are at great risk of physical and mental health challenges. These children are oftentimes at greater likelihood to use and abuse drugs. There are common causes of the children that are homeless that include: poverty, physical abuse, neglect, system failures, mental illness, substance abuse, pregnancy, sexual orientation, economic downturn, and lack of affordable housing.
Below is an example of children who had to sleep in NYC shelters each year, and how it shows the increasing rates each year.
“As homeless persons often seek care in emergency settings for conditions that could be addressed through outpatient care, interventions can be useful when treating and helping with the individuals who are homeless. Such interventions can represent significant opportunities to reduce costs, conserve resources, and improve care through policy modification that ensures a focus” (Parker 2013).
There are five major rationales that homeless children lack. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Homeless children lack self-awareness because there is no attachment to a stable environment with trust from their parents. Therefore there is no drive to listen, pay attention or follow through. There also needs to be an increase for self-management to help these children regulate their emotions so they can handle stress, and control impulses. Increasing their social awareness will help them recognize and appreciate individual and group similarities and differences, and use family, school and community resources. Relationship skills will help them cooperate, resist social pressure, preventing, managing, and resolving conflict, and seeking help when needed. Responsible decision-making will help them with safety concerns, social norms, respect, consequences, and help contribute to the school and community.
There is important information to know about the homeless, and who they are. More children each year are becoming homeless, and most of them do not have the proper knowledge to help them succeed into the individual they should be. Below is a bar graph to demonstrate the education rates that homeless individuals have, and a pie chart to demonstrate the ages in which children are becoming homeless.
JOURNEYS The Road Home. (2013 August). JOURNEYS The Road Home Newsletter
Parker, R. David Dykema, Shana ; Journal of Community Health: The Publication for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Vol 38(4), Aug, 2013. pp. 685-689
Wenzel, Suzanne L. Hsu, Hsun-Ta Zhou, Annie Tucker, Joan S. ; Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Vol 73(6), Nov, 2012. pp. 885-889
Severity of Homelessness
Over 3.5 million people are homeless each year (Students Against Hunger Campaign). There are around 3,000 homeless people in the Suburban Cook County Area (JOURNEYS, As cited in Illinois Coalition to End Homelessness). There are many contributing factors to homelessness, such as affordable housing, drug and alcohol abuse, disabilities, and mental illness. However, there are also many programs in communities, such as JOURNEYS the Road home in Palatine, that are trying to end the struggles homeless people endure, that unfortunately currently do not have enough funding to live up to their full potential. This policy brief outlines the problems with the current federal funding of efforts to end homelessness and recommends that funding be increased and used to provide resources for methods of intervention that are effective.
Source: Triplett, 2004
There has been much debate regarding funding programs that are combating homelessness in the past. Throughout the years there have been times when the budget was increased for federal funding of homelessness, but many of the programs have been unsuccessful. In general, however, federal funding for programs for homelessness has decreased and the programs that are successful do not have enough government aid to fulfill their potential.
Housing Act put into place to provide “ a decent home for every American”
Affordable Housing decreases as homelessness increases
Federal budgets for housing decrease by 50 % of what was spent on similar programs in 1976
Bush Administration pushes for $70 million for chronically homeless people
Successful programs such as PSH and JOURNEYS are excellent sources of providing shelter and/or services for the homeless are not given adequate support from the government
Federal aid makes up only 1/4 of JOURNEYS’ funds
Organizations such as JOURNEYS, who are successful in helping homeless people get the help they need and help them arrange housing within places of worship currently receive minimal government support and have had deficit spending within the last year (JOURNEYS Annual Report).
Support for Increased Funding and Successful Programs
-Permanent Sustained Housing Programs (PSH) provide permanent housing as well as services.
-One New York City PSH center managed to help 90 percent of its clients get out of homelessness (Triplett, 2004). Such programs could be extremely successful at combatting homelessness across the country if they received more funding.
-JOURNEYS enabled 74 people to transition from homelessness back into their communities and prevented 688 people from becoming homeless between 2010-2011.
- The HOPE Center, which is a part of JOURNEYS, served over 26,457 services, and the PADS sites enabled 13,878 people to have a place to spend overnight and provided over 41,232 meals.
- A program that spent large amounts of federal money on homelessness that was not successful was the King County 10 Year Plan. The program put too much emphasis on mental health and not enough on affordable housing, and is an example that demonstrates that just because you put large sums of money toward a cause, does not mean the problem will go away if it is not handled appropriately. It is vital that the government stop funding of such programs in order to increase the funding of effective programs that create a balance between services offered and affordable housing (Sparks, 2010).
Call for Action: Homelessness is an immense issue that affects an incredibly large proportion of the population and if federal efforts continue to not be substantial enough to combat homelessness, the issue will only get larger and cost the government even more money in criminal activity and medical costs. In order to end homelessness, the federal government needs to increase its funding of programs that have been proven to work.
JOURNEYS The Road Home. (2013 August). JOURNEYS The Road Home Newsletter Annual
Students Against Hunger Campaign. Overview of homelessness in America. Retrieved from
Sparks, T. (2012). Governing the Homeless in an Age of Compassion: Homelessness, Citizenship, and the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County Washington Antipode, 44(4), 1510-1531.
Triplett, W. (2004, June 18). Ending homelessness. CQ Researcher, 14, 541-564. Retrieved from