Youth Homelessness

Part of the Hiding in Plain Sight blog series

Written by Hansa Bhargava, Senior Medical Director at WebMD and Medscape, Author and Pediatrician

March 14, 2022

Homelessness has been on the rise during the pandemic and can be noted as much more visible in many urban areas. The unfortunate collateral damage of the pandemic has caused many to be in this circumstance, including many young people under the age of 24. Even before the pandemic 1 in 10 young people ages 18-24 experienced homelessness.

Youth account for 30% of the homeless population in our country. Homeless youth are often victims of physical and emotional violence, many of whom have aged out in the foster home system.

Those families who have a yearly household income of less than $24,000 are much more at risk of having youth who become homeless.

Adolescents may come to school with backpacks full of their belongings, ashamed to tell the teachers their circumstances, and are turned away from homeless shelters due to their age. One-third of homeless youth have sadly ended up without shelter often associated with the death of a caregiver or parent.

Melissa MacDonnell, the president of Liberty Mutual Foundation, has been helping improve these types of circumstances for decades. Founded in 2003, the foundation supports organizations that are changing the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors; investing in accessibility for individuals of all abilities, security for those experiencing homelessness, and academic opportunity for underserved youth. As a signature program within Liberty Mutual’s corporate giving strategy, it has committed $20 million to youth homelessness efforts since 2018, partnering with organizations that have helped more than 3,800 young people exit to stable housing and nearly 1,200 young people find transitional housing. Liberty Torchbearers, the company’s community engagement program, includes an employee volunteer component that helps support and advance communities. She speaks compassionately about the urgent ‘hidden issue’ of youth homelessness, stating “safe, secure, and stable housing is essential to physical and mental health.”

Ms. MacDonnell also speaks about data from Chapin Hall’s Voices of Youth Count (VoYC), which found that certain segments of youth are much more at risk for homelessness, including African American and LGBTQ+ youth. Those that live in rural areas are also at risk of decreased access to services; not being able to find the same support systems as those in urban regions of the country.

Regardless of their background, youth who are homeless are 87% more likely to drop out of school or get a GED (graduate education diploma), setting them up to be behind in employment as well as other areas as they start out, which can cause a domino effect for the rest of their lives.

To combat these issues, the Foundation works on many programs including those that raise awareness. For example, the Foundation has partnered with Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Life & Justice and Baker MacKenzie to put together a digital ‘Homeless Youth Handbook’ for Massachusetts, which is a resource for young people that directs them to support systems across the state. Under the guidance of Liberty Mutual’s pro bono program, 29 members of their legal team donated a total of 460 hours to draft chapters of the Massachusetts handbook.

It allows young people to know their rights and responsibilities. The handbook has been adopted in ten states, in addition to D.C., thus far. Other partnerships to support youth experiencing homelessness include schools, housing providers, and social services agencies to help recognize kids and families who might be homeless and help find homes for them.

Other resources for youth who are looking for a safe home include organizations such as Bridge Over Troubled Waters, which provides emergency shelter and other services, Open Table which provides youth experiencing homelessness with a network of supportive volunteers, and More Than Words, which provides jobs for youth and also supports by giving them a day a week to work on goals for their future. These organizations along with the Foundation are not only raising awareness for homeless youth but giving them much-needed support.

“Lifting communities and helping to build security and resiliency is critical,” said Ms. MacDonnell. “Progress happens when people feel secure.”

About the Author

Hansa Bhargava is Senior Medical Director at WebMD and Medscape, Author and Pediatrician

The “Hiding in Plain Sight” Blog is a series leading to the upcoming 2022 documentary Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illnessproduced and directed by Ewers Brothers Productions, executive produced by Ken Burns, and presented by WETA, the PBS flagship station in our nation’s capital. 

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