I'm Guilty of Not Seeing Them...
I never really thought about homeless children other than the passing news story that might appear on the local news. My wife is a teacher. I remember when she started her student teaching in New York City in the early 2000's and she would tell me about some of the kids in her classes that were homeless. I wondered how they did their homework, where they went after school, and then I drilled deeper. I thought about the people I rode the bus or subway with -- the kids who looked a little bit dirty and sad, was I overlooking them? I was.
It was scary enough to think about being homeless as an adult in New York City, but the idea that a child might be homeless on those streets, in the winter or any time of year for that matter jarred me. When we had our daughter and our son, I found myself thinking about the issue again, as the challenges of raising a child in an in tact household, in a house, was difficult enough for first-time parents.
A fever in the middle of the night was worrisome, but the idea that a parent would face this with no where to go really cut to my soul. I still find it hard to fully think about a homeless child or teen being out alone in any town in our country. San Diego is our home now, and I have made the extra effort to become aware of this vitally important issue.
The problem is everywhere and we all need to work to fix this -- right here in San Diego. I recently visited the website for Covenant House and found some national stats that chilled me to my core.
Consider -- 57% of homeless kids spend at least one day every month without food. In the United States, as many as 20,000 kids are forced into prostitution by human trafficking networks every year. According to a study of youth in shelters, nearly 50% reported intense conflict or physical harm by a family member as a major contributing factor to their homelessness.
More than 25% of former foster children become homeless within two to four years of leaving the system. 50% of adolescents aging out of foster care and juvenile justice systems will be homeless within six months because they are unprepared to live independently, have limited education, and no social support. Almost 40% of the homeless population in the United States are under the age of 18.
Those same numbers are repeated and reflected right here in San Diego. And when you factor in aging out foster youth, the problems multiply. These are truly the invisible among us. This is not a problem that we can just look to Washington or Sacramento to fix. It is here, it is now and we must work to bring help to our most vulnerable.
I was guilty, I didn't see them, and for that I am sorry. Now I do see the forgotten among us, the innocent, the helpless, and I must speak for them. We all must.