Nearly eleven hundred young people age out of the Pennsylvania foster care system each year. Many are only 18 years old and still need support and services. Several studies show that without a lifelong connection to a caring adult, these older youth are often left vulnerable to a host of adverse situations. Compared to other youth, kids who age out of foster care are more likely to not have completed high school or received a GED, they often suffer from mental health problems, many are unemployed live in poverty, and nearly 40% become homeless.
A living wage is defined as “a wage sufficient to provide the necessities essential to an acceptable standard of living, and provides it with some ability to deal with emergencies, without resorting to welfare or other public assistance.” Unfortunately, in most states the “Minimum” wage is far lower than a living wage. This disparity is one of the leading causes of homelessness among young adults in America today. Despite having a job, many do not make enough money to pay the bills. And without savings or family support, these kids often end up on the streets.
Trauma — physical, sexual and emotional — is both a cause and a consequence of homelessness. Numerous studies conducted during the past decade identify domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness in the United States, particularly for women and children, who now comprise approximately 40% of the homeless population.
Physical abuse during childhood is a powerful risk factor for adult homelessness, and violence experienced by children and adolescents often continues after they become homeless. As you can see in the graph to the left, Pennsylvania has had between 4,200 and 5,200 confirmed cases of child abuse each year between 2015 and 2019. Individuals flee abuse at home only to rediscover it on the streets or in shelters.
Over 70% of the youth experiencing homelessness who come to Covenant House suffer from mental health issues. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempts are all common among homeless youth. While some kids on the streets suffered from mental health issues even before they left home; others develop emotional difficulties due to the daily threats of violence and exploitation.
A breakdown of family is a contributing factor of homelessness. This can happen at any time. Sometimes it is due to the death of a parent or caregiver. If there is no extended family or support system, younger children are placed in the foster care system and older youth are left to fend for themselves. An eviction or foreclosure can force an entire family to become homeless and separate. Youth are often left without a permanent home causing them to move from one friend or family’s home to another until they have overstayed their welcome and look for some other type of shelter. In some cases family dynamic causes youth to become homeless.
There is a grave misconception in this country that human trafficking is a trend relegated to foreign soil. But the painful truth is that human trafficking – one of the world’s fastest-growing criminal industries – is a monstrous issue in this country. In fact, 85% of confirmed sex trafficking victims are U.S. citizens, mostly runaway children.
Often disconnected from family and friends, homeless kids are particularly susceptible to traffickers who will lure them with the promise of food, warmth, and even false love. Once snatched from the streets without anyone noticing, they are sold for the highest price, with their dignity and sense of self destroyed. Until they are free.
Covenant House receives many of these young people after they’ve found the courage to escape capture, have been freed by police raids, or have made contact with Covenant House outreach staff combing the streets day and night looking for kids in need and at risk.