Generation H ~ Why We Should Invest Now!

While organizations across the country, in partnership with state and federal resources, have done much to re-house individuals who were chronic homeless, the next generation, or rather “Generation H”. They are a by-product of a  family social service system that is seemingly broken (across the country).

The numbers of young men and women who have cycled through social service systems and wound up homeless, is staggering. Our systems have created a whole new generation of homeless with equally staggering associated costs as they age (social services, public safety, prisons, etc.)

Fortunately, language in the HEARTH Act allows for a significant investment in providing homeless services to children.

As the regional initiatives go forward into the  implementation stage, all providers need to put their collective “hats” on and determine what we want the outcome of Generation H, to be.

Below is the article or you can link through to AOL News

Generation Homeless:

The New

Faces of an Old Problem

By Carol Smith, Investigate West

Special to AOL News

SEATTLE (Oct. 19) — Twenty-two-year-old Tony Torres sags, exhausted, onto the pavement just beyond a skate park where kids from this affluent Seattle suburb, Bellevue, flip tricks off ramps to the beat of a boombox. This is a safe place to hang out until he knows whether he’ll get a bed on this night at the nearby YMCA, which donates its rec room as a shelter for young adults at night. 

His odds of getting a spot to throw a mat on the floor are about one in seven.

Antonio Torres, 23, sits in his room at a temporary housing unit in Seattle's University District on October 3, 2010. 

Mike Kane / InvestigateWest
Tony Torres, 22, sits in his room at a temporary housing unit in Seattle’s University District on Oct. 3. Torres recently received emergency housing after being homeless for four years.

Torres is joined by a few other worn-out looking young people, who sling their packs down and slump against the wall. They’ve all been on their feet all day, moving from park to park, job application to job application, library to library — anywhere they can hang for a few minutes before being asked to move along.

Young adults are the new face of homelessness.

It’s a group driven by two large converging forces: an economy that has been especially brutal on young people, and the large numbers currently exiting foster care.

Precise numbers are difficult to pin down. But based on a study done before the economy collapsed, an estimated 2 million young people age 18 to 24 will be homeless nationwide this year.

Two cities that are magnets for mobile young adults are reporting surging numbers of homeless young people at shelters targeted at that population. Seattle and San Francisco shelter workers say they are among only a handful of cities nationwide that offer shelter just for young adults.

“We’re turning people away in record numbers,” said Kristine Cunningham, executive director of ROOTS in Seattle, one of the pioneering young adult shelters in the country. ROOTS expects to turn young people away more than 2,000 times this year, compared with about 200 times five years ago. This year, the 27-bed shelter expects to provide a place to sleep for 542 young adults.

In Portland, Ore., another magnet for the young and homeless, the young adult segment increased by 25 percent last year, more than double the overall increase (12 percent) in homelessness for all age groups, said Natasha Detweiler, research analyst for Oregon Housing and Community Services. Oregon counted 1,595 young people in this year’s one-night snapshot of homelessness.

“And that’s certainly an underestimate,” she said.

Yet, of all the various segments of the homeless population, young adults probably receive the least attention, have the fewest resources applied to help them and have the least amount of policy advocacy on their behalf, according to some experts.

“Being homeless is like a picture of someone screaming, and no one coming to help,” Torres said.

Difficult to Find Jobs

Many people expect 18-year-olds who aren’t in school to get jobs and be self-supporting That may have been possible for their parents’ generation, said Rachel Antrobus, director of San-Francisco based Transitional Age Youth Initiative, an agency that works to coordinate services for 18- to 24-year-olds. “But that’s not actually realistic anymore.”

Unemployment rates are higher among young adults than other age groups. In July, the youth unemployment rate edged over 19 percent, the highest July rate on record since 1948. In 2009, 80 percent of college graduates moved home after finishing school, according to job listing website Collegegrad.com, up from 77 percent in 2008 and 67 percent in 2006. Those without the training and family support of college graduates are hurting even more.

Antonio Torres, 23, waits for a friend outside of a drugstore in Seattle's University District on October 3, 2010. 

Mike Kane / InvestigateWest
Tony Torres waits for a friend outside a drugstore in Seattle’s University District on Oct. 3.

“The 30-year-olds are taking jobs from 20-year-olds, because the 40-year-olds are taking the 30-year-olds’ jobs,” said Mark Putnam, a consultant for Building Changes, a nonprofit focused on ending homelessness in Washington state. “These guys are truly employment victims of the recession.”

Nationally, a wage-earner in a family with children has to make almost $18 an hour to afford the average two-bedroom apartment. In cities like Seattle and San Francisco, housing costs are even higher. In Seattle, for example, families must earn more than $21 an hour. California averages $25 an hour for affordable housing.

That’s out of reach for many young adults, especially those with no training.

Curtis, 24, who didn’t want his last name used, wound up staying at a young adult shelter after the place he was renting went into foreclosure. He hasn’t been able to scrape together enough money to find a new place on his wages parking cars for a luxury hotel in Seattle. “Some places are asking like $1,500 to 2 grand for deposit,” he said. “The whole situation just really sucks.”

Shane Thomas, 23, is one of an estimated 1,000 young adults believed homeless nightly in Seattle. He picks up jobs on fishing boats when he can, but despite the seasonal, temporary gigs, he still winds up staying on the street and in shelters.

“The thing about being homeless — you get stuck in one spot,” he said. “Might get a little more money in your pocket the next day, but you’re still going to be broke.”

Out of Foster Care and Onto the Street

The economy, however, only compounds an even larger underlying problem: The largest driver of the young adult homeless population is the foster-care system.

States typically stop providing money for support of foster children at age 18. Many wind up on the street.

The majority of young people using the shelter system come from foster care, said Denise Wallace, mental health counselor at The Landing, a shelter for young adults in Bellevue, Wash.

A homeless young adult shows cigarettes that he picked up off the ground that he will save and smoke in Seattle on September 22, 2010. 

Mike Kane / InvestigateWest
A homeless young adult in Seattle picked these cigarettes off the ground Sept. 22 to save and smoke later.

Nationally, as the number of kids in foster care has been declining, the number of those turning 18 in the care of the state is on the rise, increasing by 41 percent from 1998 to 2005 , according to a report by Pew Charitable Trusts. About 20,000 young people a year age out of foster care.

Studies, including those done by Pew, also show that one in five of those who age out will be homeless within two years of leaving foster care. Half won’t have a high school degree. Less than 3 percent graduate college. By the time they age out of foster care at age 18, 20 percent of young women are already parents themselves, according to a University of Pennsylvania report. Another 40 percent are pregnant.

For some of these young people, getting pregnant is perceived as a way out of homelessness. There’s a perception among young people on the street that if you’re about to give birth, you can get housing. “We’ve incentivized becoming pregnant,” Cunningham said.

Wait lists are just as burdened for housing for young families, but having a child does make a young person eligible for services not available to childless young adults.

Families now account for about 40 percent of the homeless population, and the majority are headed by single moms.

Yet the group driving this trend — young adults ages 18 to 24 — is generally under-counted and under-represented when solutions are envisioned. Relatively few resources are being directed to prevent them from producing new generations of homeless families.

Meet Casi Jackson

Casi Jackson is part of the problem, and part of the solution.

At work at a homeless outreach center in a Seattle suburb, Jackson shifts her 7-month-old daughter, Tiana, on her hip and juggles a cell phone in her other hand while she fields a call from a scared-sounding mom. The mom has no place to sleep tonight. Jackson is matter-of-fact on the phone and sounds older than her 22 years. She knows what it’s like to be staring down a night without shelter.

Cots are stacked in a homeless youth shelter in Seattle on September 22, 2010. 

Mike Kane / InvestigateWest
Cots are stacked in a homeless youth shelter in Seattle on Sept. 22.

Jackson was homeless at 20. She had borne three children by 21. One died. One is now living with a grandparent, and one lives with her. She has another on the way as she struggles to make for them what she never had: a stable home with a family under one roof.

Children born to homeless mothers, or who experience multiple episodes of housing instability — couch surfing, staying in motels or shuttling between households when they are young — often mirror that in their own adulthoods.

Jackson’s own trajectory shows how homelessness can pass from generation to generation. She was born in a California jail. Her military father was deployed when his baby daughter was discharged from the jail medical ward. She spent her childhood shuffling between relatives.

“If I had to characterize my childhood in one word, it would be chaos,” she said. She now volunteers her time to help other young people, like herself, find stability and is trying to get into college to study social work.

People who don’t grow up with stable homes don’t develop many of the coping strategies that let them transition into stable home lives as adults, said Cunningham of ROOTS.

Many have been abused, said Wallace, the counselor who works at The Landing. “There’s a lot of trauma.”

Looking for Solutions

Seattle and San Francisco are ahead of the curve in providing specialized emergency shelter for this demographic. In many other cities, young people have to go to general adult shelters, or sleep outside while they wait months, or years, for housing.

“Even though it’s not age appropriate to be with older shelter population, at this time, we don’t have a separate option,” said Josephine Pufpaff, director of Youth Link in Minneapolis, which tries to help young people transitioning to adulthood. Young people often don’t feel safe or welcomed at general adult shelters, which tend to be populated by older men who have been on the street for a long time.

'J', 24, sleeps on a couch that he positioned in a grove of trees between apartment buildings in Seattle's University District on August 30, 2010. 

Mike Kane / InvestigateWest
“J”, 24, sleeps on a couch that he positioned in a grove of trees between apartment buildings in Seattle’s University District on Aug. 30.

The lack of specialized services and shelters for this demographic is a problem all around the country and reflects a general misconception about the developmental needs of young adults, she said.

The Mockingbird Society, a foster youth advocacy group based in Seattle, lobbied successfully to get federal legislation passed to extend support until age 21. The Fostering Connections to Success Act passed in 2008 provides federal matching funds for extending foster support. But the fight now is to get states to put up their part of the money, said Public Policy Director Rose Berg.

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“Once you hit 18, you get dumped from the system and forgotten about,” said Torres, who lived in multiple foster homes from the age of 12 until he was 18. He suffers from kidney failure and has had to juggle difficult medical treatments with life on the streets.

But Torres is one of the lucky ones. He won what amounts to a housing lottery and has secured a bed for six months in a group house for young adults transitioning from the street.

Now he has a place, not just to sleep, but to dream.

“I want to go to college,” he said. “Someday I want to teach history.”

(InvestigateWest is a nonprofit investigative journalism center based in Seattle. For information on how you can support independent investigative reporting for the common good)

2010 AOL Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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