You should really read this week’s New Yorker article about homeless youth. It’s focused on Samantha, a Florida teenager who left home at 17. She wanted to go to college but couldn’t afford it. She felt invisible and friendless, just coming to terms with her sexual identity as a lesbian and trying to cope with a sexual assault by a family friend that her parents did not believe happened.
Writer Rachel Aviv’s gritty chronicle echoes what we hear locally from the young people who live at Nicollet Square and from our partner there, YouthLink. For example:
- Sadly, it is not unusual for young people on the streets to exchange sex for money, food or a bed. Aviv reports that researchers asked 80 youth what they would need to leave the sex trade, and most of them said stable housing or employment. ‘These young people exchange sex for money not because they are being held and trafficked as sex slaves,’ the authors wrote, but because they ‘exist at the lowest stratum of a socio-economic and cultural system that is failing them.’” [Ital. mine]
- A shelter bed alone isn’t enough—especially one with unreasonable time limits or other stipulations. Samantha cycled through one 30-day youth shelter numerous times because she couldn’t find a job within their time frame. Another large shelter – one whose 180 beds represent 70 percent of New York City’s available shelter beds for youth – pushed religion and forced her friend, a transgender young man, to use his given female name which he found humiliating.
- The effects of homelessness can be cumulative. After more than a year on the streets, “Homelessness narrowed Samantha’s field of vision, making the future so abstract as to be nearly imaginary,” writes Aviv. She eventually realized she was in danger of becoming a “lifer” if she did not make some changes.
- Even when stability is within reach, the transition to being “housed” is difficult. Samantha finally found a subsidized apartment she could afford at a new housing development specifically for LGBT youth, “True Colors.” Even then, Samantha avoided being alone there. “For two years, she had longed for privacy, and now she was embarrassed that she couldn’t appreciate it,” writes Aviv. “With her basic needs met, other dilemmas revealed themselves—how to afford college and, eventually, she decided, medical school. It was impossible to stay calm in such silence.”
Bottom line: stable, supportive housing is the most effective way to provide hope and options for homeless youth. You can support our work or join our advocacy program to help fund the services that will help us create homes for the Samanthas right here in the Twin Cities—as soon as possible.
- By Kris Berggren