They are the nation’s invisible homeless population, undercounted for years, hiding out in cars and abandoned buildings, in motels and on couches, often trading sex for a place to sleep. And now, for a complex variety of reasons, the number of youth — teens and young adults — living on the street appears to be growing.
San Diego saw a 39 percent jump in homeless youth over the past year. In Atlanta, the number of homeless youth in 2016 was estimated to be nearly triple that of previous years. After a concerted effort to count homeless young people, Seattle’s King County saw its numbers jump more than 700 percent between 2016 and 2017. And the number of homeless, unaccompanied public school students increased one-fifth between 2012 and 2015.
There’s no one reason for the rise in youth homelessness, said Naomi Smoot, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. Communities are just starting to get better data on homeless youth, which may be one reason for the increase. Then again, Smoot said, “it’s the drug crisis, it’s the economy, it’s the cost of housing, jobs being scarce. As a result, growing numbers of young people are having to take care of themselves on the street at a very young age.”
Many communities are stepping up their efforts to deal with the problem. The idea is to intervene early, with services targeted toward the particular needs of young people — before homelessness becomes chronic, and it’s much harder to move them off the street.
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