The FAMCare Blog

Prevention the Only Cure

Posted by GVT Admin on Feb 28, 2024 11:29:12 AM

Homeless youth living in a shelter Youth and young adults rarely come to mind when we think of homelessness. Caseworkers working full time with the country's homeless population tell us that homelessness among young people is largely out of sight.

Youth homelessness looks different because it is fluid and hidden. A recent national study found homelessness in 1 out of 30 youth aged 13 to 17 and 1 out of 10 young adults aged 18 to 25. Youth homelessness often remains in the shadows because it may involve couch hopping with friends by a young person who goes from household to household without a choice and is subject to dismissal or exploitation. Young people experiencing homelessness include parents with young children, youth met with rejection after disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, and youth who ran away from a foster home or “aged out” of foster care.

One does not have to experience homelessness to understand that it presses hard; the energy and will required to attend to basic survival does not leave much room for vocation, education, or aspiration. It is no wonder that young people experiencing homelessness are less likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and succeed in higher education.

The Faster We Go - The Behinder We Get

Case workers struggling with increasing youth homelessness say that engaging with youth after they have become homeless and trying to find them permanent homes is a race that they are losing. As one caseworker remarked recently, "The faster we go, the behinder we get."  

The formula for “running behind” is simple; as the population continues to increase, immigration explodes, poverty deepens, drug addiction and alcoholism expand, and more and more children are at risk of finding themselves homeless. Caseworkers are now looking to address the causes of youth homelessness by first identifying the risk factors that are present just before a child goes homeless rather than dealing only with finding housing for children who are already homeless.

Identification and Prevention

The big picture caseworkers are beginning to develop is that youth homelessness is the culmination of missed opportunities in families, schools, health systems, and communities. Certain circumstances were found to be the clear precursors of youth homelessness.

  • Young people who identified as Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, or gender nonconforming (LGBTQ+) were at a greater risk for homelessness.
  • 69% of homeless youth reported mental health difficulties and 29% reported substance use problems. PTSD, depression, and anxiety are the most common difficulties in this population.
  • One-third of youth experiencing homelessness faced the death of a caregiver and many more experienced numerous adversities such as family homelessness, physical and/or sexual abuse, poverty, isolation, and exposure to family substance abuse.

Connecticut Head Start on Housing

Headstart students

Preventing homelessness is no easy feat, but screening and early identification are critical means of diversion. Children, youth, and families interact with various systems that can prevent risk from becoming crisis and crisis from becoming homelessness.

Dedicated caseworkers in Connecticut have recognized the importance of early intervention and have launched a partnership with Head Start to address the predispositions of youth homelessness.

  • Head Start on Housing is a CT based multi-partner initiative focused on supporting families who are facing housing challenges find a home to call their own.
  • Connecticut’s nine Community Action Agencies (CAAs) continually strive to address the causes and conditions of poverty, through the identification and removal of social and economic barriers, the mobilization of community resources, advocacy, and the provision of direct services at the community level.
  • Connecticut Head Start programs use a screening tool to understand family housing circumstances, risks for homelessness, social support, and mental health among the "at risk" population. The tool enables prompt referrals for local supports, or connection with housing subsidies and other concrete supports. Case workers in Connecticut hope that this approach may interrupt an intergenerational cycle of housing instability.
  • This program provides housing vouchers to Connecticut Early Head Start or Head Start families as a step towards ending homelessness and supporting family success. This initiative is made possible by collaboration with local and national organizations, as well as Head Start programs.

Prevention - The Real Cure

Just as the medical profession concluded some years ago, prevention had a greater impact on the nation's overall health than cures of existing disease, case workers across the country are now juggling two balls in the air at the same time. Not only are they swamped trying to find shelter for already homeless youth, but they are working tirelessly to identify the youth at risk and prevent crisis from becoming homelessness.


Topics: Homeless & Food Pantry, social issues

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