When the issue of homelessness comes to mind, many of us tend to imagine the same images; vets struggling with chemical dependency, seniors whose mental illness is left untreated. What often goes unnoticed is the high percentage of homeless youth. According to the Chicago Coalition for the homeless, out of the 93,780 Chicagoans recorded as homeless in the 2010-2011 school year, 10,684, or 11% were homeless youth.

Homeless youth are defined as unaccompanied young people from the ages of 14-21. Patterns of youth homelessness have shown that youth initially ran away as a result of physical or sexual abuse in their home, substance abuse in their home, or long-lasting family issues. Populations of homeless youth that are commonly misrepresented and overlooked are pregnant or already parenting teens, as well as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) youth.

Even though housing is the number one need among runaway youth, there are several essential needs that are not met when a youth is homeless. Health and wellness are jeopardized, education falls into the background, and risky behavior is often increased when a youth becomes homeless. There is also a highly increased risk of being subject to physical and sexual ill-treatment once youth become homeless. As a way to manage this issue, there are several homeless facilities strictly for youth. However, the city of Chicago only has 189 beds for homeless youth, even though almost 11,000 youth are homeless. More and more youth are being turned away from these shelters as a result.

As a way to bring attention to this growing issue, the National Runaway Switchboard teamed up with the National Network for Youth to create National Runaway Prevention Month every November. This initially started as a week of awareness in November 2002 as a way that various leaders on the issue could come together and hold numerous conferences and discussions on the issues that runaway youth encounter. Over the years, this time expanded into an entire month as a way raise awareness about the issues that runaway youth face, as well as a time to educate others as to how we can prevent youth from running away.

Throughout the month of November, the National Runaway Switchboard and the National Network for Youth encourages everyone to get involved with raising awareness about runaway youth. With tips for parents on how to talk to their children, to ideas for youth volunteering with their peers; these two organizations show how there are numerous ways to get involved during this month of prevention. On our next Runaway Prevention blog, we’ll tell you more about specific ways that Chicago Cares is responding to the issue of youth homelessness locally.

You can always get involved by exploring the many opportunities that Chicago Cares has working with the homeless and housing insecure in our city.

Today’s blog is from Human Services Coordinator, Aly Moser