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Often children must withhold information from people who could help them as public awareness of their homelessness would likely end in separation from loved ones as for children a greater number of programs exist to help them independently than collectively with their parents. Homeless youth are also a significant social issue and their numbers are hard to even estimate, though there are clear indications that the numbers are growing. "Novac, Serge, Eberle, and Brown (2002) identified four important trends among homeless youth: 1) the incidence is increasing; 2) an increasing number are chronically homeless; 3) the age at which youth become homeless is decreasing, especially for females; and 4) more identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered." (Wingert, Higgitt & Ristock, 2005, p. 54) the issue, like with that of other homeless populations is developing systems that build transitions to more stable and permanent housing. (Wingert, Higgitt & Ristock, 2005, p. 54) Homeless youth, in increasing numbers face exponential barriers to transitioning out of homelessness, as they do not have the voice of an adult to advocate for themselves and often do not have the social skills to transverse very adult like transitional solutions, such as renting a room, obtaining legitimate employment or receiving the education they deserve.
When building solutions many seek to continue to provide greater services to meet the short-term needs of homeless women, children and youth and yet the problem of poverty and homelessness must be accessed through the view of seeking answers to why the problem has become so bad, i.e. social exclusion. Though identification as members of a group of already marginalized individuals is common, such as individuals who are members of discriminated against ethnic groups, individuals with a history of long-term poverty or even, as was stated above, members of classes of people that are often openly discriminated against like gay or transgendered, solutions must be found that respond to these as well as other general issues of homelessness in a long-term sense. Though access to health care is essential, as is shelter space, adequate food, clothing and hygiene locations no real resolution will occur unless the problem is focused on from its source, i.e. what is causing homelessness in the first place and why does it persist. In the case of women, children and youth the issue is compounded by inadequate equitable child care, which overburdens single parents and reduces their earning potential, for youth issues include drug and violence cultures as well as the desire by youth to have some control over the condition of poverty, over which they had none as homeless and/or poor children. In a sad twist of fate the reason youth tend to become independent and homeless has a great deal to do with an essential aspect of their social and developmental needs; "A locus of control. Youth should not feel like pawns in the hands of fate. They need to have a goal and recognize that their success or failure is in their own hands." (Calhoun, 2006, p. 19) Other mitigating factors include limited access to transitional housing situations that help in a multifaceted way with, child care, shelter, health care access, job training and even drug and alcohol abuse treatment. ("Neighbors in the News," 2004, p. 2) Hardil offers and interesting analogy of the health care system as it applies to homelessness and poverty.
A vacationing health care worker throws her fishing line into a river and waits for the fish to start biting. As she waits, a body appears upstream, floating in the current. She yanks up her hip waders and walks out to grab the body, pulling the unconscious person up on to the bank. Resuscitation is effective, and soon the grateful person is able to get up and go. The health worker, somewhat fatigued, resumes fishing. Soon, however, another body appears in the river...and another....and another. The whole afternoon is spent rescuing drowning people. The frazzled health worker is too busy with her rescue operations to even investigate the cause of the disaster, or what is happening upstream to cause all this downstream havoc. (Hardil, 2001, p. 62)
An even more troubling trend is the common legal attempt not to help resolve the homelessness problem but simply make it less visible, stripping it of a voice or transition out of homelessness. Youth populations are also under extreme duress as one of their most legitimate opportunities has been illegalized in several urban centers. Rather than solving source problems laws are designed to remove the problem from the public eye.
For example, Winnipeg's squeegee ban, which was passed with the ostensible intention of protecting youth, legally sanctioned one of the more socially acceptable ways in which youth earn money in order to survive without offering any alternative method for meeting basic needs. The Winnipeg by-law allows fines up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months if fines are not paid (National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO) 1999). Other cities have instituted similar legislation. (Wingert, Higgitt & Ristock, 2005, p. 54)
Regardless of the desire of the upper classes and legislators to shelter themselves from this growing problem, the worst possible solutions include those that create legal sanctions on youth and children for simply making an effort to eke out a living in a dangerous and frustrating homeless situation. The trend need not focus on removing the problem from public view but should instead focus on resolving problems that cause homelessness among this population. For youth and children access to education and transitional, alternative education programs that follow the student and provide assistance and communication with families is essential. For single parents engendering a greater ability to seek out and find adequate and equitable (even free) child care so that they may seek employment, legitimate and long-term shelter and help with mitigating circumstances, such as a history or current problem with domestic violence, substance abuse, lack of experience or education and transportation is essential to adding services that deal with the immediate needs of the bodies floating downstream, before they become these drowning victims, with their children holding and being pulled under as they drown. In many nations including the UK and other EU nations, "…child poverty rates hover around 15-16% " (Tienda & Wilson, 2002, p. 4) This large segment of the population is at high risk for homelessness and continued social exclusion. Resolving these issues needs to be focused on causal factors rather than paint and lipstick that simply hides the problem and potentially creates even greater obstacles to transition from homelessness and poverty.
Homeless youth are an increasing segment of the population. They are socially excluded from nearly everything that demonstrates normalcy and security for children and this phenomena creates a seemingly endless cycle of physical and psychological despair. There is a clear sense that the rights of children are being marginalized, as for the most part, with few exceptions the condition of their homelessness is entirely outside of their control. One might at this point try to stress that homeless youth are frequently runaways, and yet even if this is the case the reasons they left home often have to do with issues outside of their control, as it is rarely the case that an individual runaway does not return if their street experience severely contrasts a loving home. Youth who perceive their home as loving and supportive, rarely run away and if they do they frequently return in a short amount of time. Tienda & Wilson point out that there are clearly programs that are effective, and can serve as models for programs in other places, according to these researchers the programs that are most effective utilize the strategy of, "…targeting within universalism," that is, using public resources to implement inclusive programs for children from diverse socioeconomic groups." According to Tienda & Wilson, "These programs aid all children in the…school system and have been especially successful in preventing low-income children from ending up on the streets and engaging in petty crimes to survive." (2002, p. 13) Given the variation and number of mitigating circumstances associated with youth homelessness it goes without saying that the variety and number of alternatives to full social inclusion of this population is required and most importantly solutions and infrastructures that can be tailored to meet the needs of a diverse subculture. In other words infrastructure needs to be solid and provide for basic necessities, food, shelter, medical care, transportation and even access to education but it also must offer individuals access to programs and services that are long-term such as employment, transitional housing, drug and alcohol dependency services, help and support groups for ethnic minorities and/or subjugated populations like gay and transgendered youth. Ultimately, the infrastructure must address the reasons the individuals and/or families ended up on the streets in the first place and provide them with solutions for changing these factors to allow them to reintegrate into non-homeless…[continue]
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