“A lot of you in the room grew up with a mother and father, had clothes and food. Some of us never had that,” Alicia, one of the young people profiled in Homeless Youth: Finding Home, a new documentary profiling the lives of six homeless youth in Minnesota. Alicia spoke to the group invited to preview the documentary at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation November 19.
Homeless Youth: Finding Home premiers on TPT Channel 17 on November 22nd, at 8pm.
The Wilder Foundation in St. Paul conducts a one-night snapshot study of homelessness in Minnesota every three years.
“It’s a gold mine of information, but the general public isn’t very aware of it,” said Michelle Gerrard, one of the authors of the Wilder’s study, and the documentary project manager. “We want to do a better job of communicating information about homeless youth. We want people to realize what they can personally do to engage in this.”
According to Wilder’s research,
On any given night, an estimated 550 to 650 homeless youth age 11 through 17 are on their own, with an additional 700 to 1,650 young adults age 18 through 21 estimated to be homeless. Over the course of a year, between 12,300 and 22,000 Minnesota youth and between 4,900 and 8,000 young adults experience at least one episode of homelessness.
About 49% of homeless young people experience mental health issues, and 34% experience parental neglect. Around 50% have been sexually mistreated, and about one third have considered suicide.
To make progress, we need to tap resources within a variety of systems said State Senator Scott Dibble. Dibble discussed the importance of creating more outcome measures and accountability for systems already in place.
“We have to do something with the child welfare system,” said Susan Phillips, director of homeless youth programs at Lutheran Social Service. “I know kids who should have been in the system but didn’t get in, because their situation wasn’t bad enough. Because they didn’t have a broken bone.”
“We need to overhaul these systems because they’re not working,” said Phillips, “and that’s going to take money, and an insane amount of courage.”
Although Michelle Gerrard noted that the idea of preventing youth homelessness can be overwhelming, many elements can make a difference and help prevent youth homelessness at a local, community level.
“Be the cool mom on the block,” said Phillips. “Create spaces for teens to be in your community where they can be safe. This is a real grassroots way that people change things.”
“Look in the mirror,” Alicia told the audience at Wilder. “What you see is what makes the difference.”
Maura Youngman is a journalism student at Hamline University and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.