According to a study by the National Health Care for the Homeless Councilconducted before the economic recession, about 2 million young people across the country between the ages of 18 and 24 will become homeless this year. Much of this crisis is due to the economy’s brutal effects on young people and the large number of youth leaving the foster care system.
The tie between youth unemployment and homelessness is unmistakable. In anAOL News article, Mark Putnam, a consultant for Building Changes, a nonprofit aiming to end homelessness in Washington state, said:
“The 30-year-olds are taking jobs from 20-year-olds, because the 40-year-olds are taking the 30-year-olds’ jobs. These guys are truly employment victims of the recession.”
Youth unemployment is at its highest rate in decades, and I imagine the rate of homeless youth will be even higher than predicted.
In addition, there is the underlying problem of youth leaving foster care. As young people reach adulthood, the government stops providing funds to support their foster care. As these young people are forced to leave the foster care system, one in five become homeless within two years of leaving, according to a study by Pew Charitable Trusts. The Pew study further shows that half of those exiting foster care don’t have a high school degree, and less than 3 percent have graduated college. Finding employment without these degrees is difficult, if possible at all.
A key step towards improvement was made in 2008, when Congress passed theFostering Connections to Success Act. This act provides federal matching funds for extending foster care support until age 21. Public Policy Director Rose Berg of the Mockingbird Society, which lobbied to get this legislation passed, said:
“The fight now is to get states to put up their part of the money.”
This act will only be successful if the element of it that requires foster-care youth over 18 to be involved in school, vocational training, or employed at least 80 hours per month is strictly enforced. This provision will help ensure that when graduating from foster care, people will be employed, or at least in a suitable position for employment. If this part of the act is ignored, sadly, its enactment will only lead to the new homeless population being predominantly young adults ages 21+.