We have too many kids falling through cracks that we’ve created. Youth fall fast and hard into poverty on their 18th birthday. Just look at the number of transition age youth in the adult homeless shelter if you want evidence that we are not doing as well as we think. Last year almost 1,000 people in the adult shelter were between the ages of 18-24. In fact, 29% of the families in the adult family shelters were headed by people between the ages of 18-24. While we are rightfully concerned about kids who “age out of foster care”, that group is a fraction of the youth I’m talking about. What is true, however, is that most of those youth spent time in foster care or were served by many of the youth agencies in Franklin County. I know there are many committees and organizations talking about how we as a community should respond. But those of us in the youth-serving part of our human services community are not asking ourselves the hard question, “did we do everything we could when these young people were with us to prepare them to live independently, safely and with hope for their future?”
The three most common comments with which teens greet our Youth Outreach Specialists are: “I need money;” “I don’t have any place to stay;” and “me and my Mom got into it again.” Just in hearing these words from a struggling young adult we recognize that the reality of a “basic need” for a transition-age homeless youth (17-25 years old) is more complicated than the traditional, tangible interpretation of food, shelter and clothing. These young adults are chronologically old enough to transition through the adult shelter system to independent living; but they do not have the life skills, literacy, or requisite intangible adult support to succeed through the process. Making connections to community programs and resources is not enough. These young people are battling numerous, significant social, emotional and mental health barriers that require time and space with adults available to guide and support them.
Becky Westerfelt, MSW
Executive Director of the Huckleberry House