(Photo by Flickr user Marjan Lazarevski, used under a Creative Commons license)
Two years ago, in a single January night, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported 45,205 unaccompanied homeless youth across the country.
A staggering amount of those homeless youth live in Philadelphia.
A year later, NBC10 reported recently, the city’s Office of Supportive Housing discovered 558 youths ages 18 to 24 in shelters and an additional 55 elsewhere. Altogether, though, 1 in 20 high schoolers in Philadelphia’s public school system have at some point in their lives experienced homelessness.
In part, it’s a question of capacity: Philadelphia does not have enough shelters to safeguard youth.
“We do not have enough services to meet the need,” Philadelphia Covenant House executive director John Ducoff recently told Al Jazeera. “We’re turning kids away every day.”
That’s because Covenant House only accepts homeless between age 18 and 24 — and they only have 50 beds. When they can’t take any more homeless in, they call the Department of Human Services. That’s been a problem.
Out of 1,600 staffers at DHS, 500 work exclusively on child cases. Yet, as Al Jazeera reports, only eight percent of Philly’s homeless youth were in shelters back in June. Despite homeless kids not wanting to be recognized as being homeless, there just aren’t enough beds in the city.
Laura Rena Murray, the Al Jazeera journalist who wrote the Philly homelessness story, knows the youth homelessness experience firsthand — she was one of those kids who was turned away from a Philly shelter in 2000.
“Like many kids, I worked hard not to appear homeless, hoping to avoid the stigma and violence from my peers and on the streets,” Murray wrote. “Too afraid to sleep on the benches in plain sight, I slept under them. I slept at playgrounds because they felt safer. I stopped when a group of boys found me one night. I was on their turf — a spot for midnight dealings.”
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