Besides just the facts and figures though, advocacy season is also an important time to identify and debunk policy myths that have been floating around. So here are the top three youth homelessness myths that we’ve heard this past the year, along with how we debunk them.
MYTH: Providing emergency shelter for youth encourages them to leave their families.
Family reunification is the top priority for DC agencies and community-based organizations. From the moment a young person walks through their door, the service providers are thinking about if, how, and when the youth can connect to family members who can support them. This is best practice and follows federal guidelines.
Family reunification is achieved through different paths, depending on the dynamics of the situation. Sometimes functional family therapy is the best tool. Sometimes finding other relatives where the youth can stay for a period of time is the best solution. Other times the youth needs to form a therapeutic bond with service providers before they can learn to mimic that with their own family. Usually the solution is some combination of these three.
It is important to remember, though, that family reunification is not always achievable or a good idea. One quick example is when a youth identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community and no family member is willing to support them based on their sexuality.
Remember, these youth are not leaving home as a result of a little fight with their parents. Youth do not check into shelter like you would check into a hotel. DC homeless youth have told us that they seek services because they have nowhere else to turn.
MYTH: Youth from outside DC come into DC just to take advantage of our homelessness services.
Historic oppression, a struggling education system, and rising inequality have created a dire situation for DC youth. It is heartbreaking. Yes, youth, like most people, go in and out of the boundaries of DC every day. Homeless youth, especially, have to shuffle from family member, to friend, to acquaintance in order to find food and shelter. But make no mistake: these are our youth, and they are not “shopping around” to find the best deal.
Sleeping on peoples’ couches, whether they are in DC or a half mile outside it, can be dangerous for a young person. Youth will tell you, receiving favors usually comes at a cost; some form of payment for sleeping on a person’s couch is eventually required, which could mean running drugs or engaging in unwanted sexual acts. We have to protect our youth and that starts by claiming them as our own.
MYTH: Youth homelessness issues should only be dealt with by the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA).
CFSA's mandate is to remove minors (under age 18) from high-risk, domestic situations where parental abuse or neglect is reported. This unimaginably difficult work is critical to protecting DC children and youth.
However, youth who are experiencing a hostile home environment – but not abuse or neglect – are the young people who fall through the cracks and often become homeless.
Take the earlier example of the young person who identifies as LGBTQ. The young person may be experiencing a hostile environment because their parent or guardian does not support them based on their sexuality. This fact does not necessarily mean that the parent or guardian is abusing or neglecting their child, however, the young person is at a high-risk of leaving or feeling forced to leave and becoming homeless
CFSA does however, have the power to refer parents of minors in low- to mid-risk situations to Community Collaboratives which provide voluntary services, such as family reunification and counseling programs. Many times though, families will not follow up with the Community Collaboratives because of a lack of trust and fear of stigma around receiving services from the child welfare system.
This is why DC must look beyond just using CFSA as an agency to house homeless youth and work closely with community based organizations that are designed to provide services to both minors and youth up to 24 who leave their home because of reasons that fall outside of CFSA’s mandate.
Thanks for brushing up on your youth homelessness policy basics. Be sure to let us know if you’ve heard any youth homelessness policy myths floating around and tell us how you debunk them!
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