Homeless Youth

Living in a big city can be expensive. Living in a big city and going to school can be an even bigger issue when you are a student, worried about food insecurity, housing stability and school performance. Last spring, at San Diego Mesa College, a friend and I worked on a project together to find the exact issues that were impacting San Diego communities and found that many San Diegans were concerned about youth homelessness and education. Throughout San Diego County, more than 162,000 Homeless Youth suffer from food insecurity. We organized a community event which included an open dialog event called Community Conversations, on ways we could help our local students overcome these types of issues.

As a San Diego Mesa College alumni, I realized the importance of education and how it affects our future. Educational success has a direct impact on our homeless youth because the state of today’s youth affects the future of our nation tomorrow. In communities across the country, people are increasingly aware of the sight of young people on the streets. A homeless youth is characterized as anyone 25 years of age or younger who does not have safe, stable, or permanent housing. The term homeless youth also includes those who have run away from abusive homes. According to the Voice of San Diego the increasing number of children experiencing homelessness is because their families are either living in cars, motels, parks, tents or staying in overcrowded shelters living conditions or older homeless youth include sleeping in shelters, on friends’ couches, inside of cars, under bridges, in parks, abandoned buildings, or anywhere available on the street.

Homeless youth make up a very large part of our nation today and the numbers continue to grow dramatically. As stated in the National Center on Family Homelessness, homeless children are eight times more likely to repeat a grade, three times more likely to be placed in special education classes, and twice as likely to score lower on standardized tests. In San Diego, homelessness for youth can be more than a lack of a stable place to live, it can also mean health problems, failing education, and sometimes mental illness. The San Diego Board of Education reported that San Diego County has over 5,000 students experiencing homelessness in grades preschool through high school. In 2013–2014 more than 56,000 college students identified as homeless on their free application for Federal Student Aid.

Low educational success rates coincide with low income and poverty levels. A student’s inability to have a stable and safe home environment affects their ability to fully focus on their education. The emotional stress and daily struggles of being homeless can become overbearing causing many to drop out of school completely. Homeless students that drop out of college usually depend on various forms of financial aid or school loans. Dropping out of college would cause students to become ineligible for financial aid or even default in their student loans.

This is a concern for San Diego and San Francisco counties as well all over the world, but with having no rent control in these cities puts students are high risk. In San Diego County, there is more than 162,000 children don’t know where their next meal is coming from. In all, 15 percent of San Diego County’s population is impacted by hunger, according to research released by Feeding America San Diego. Twenty-two and a half percent of youth in San Diego county struggle with hunger, and this is especially true during the summer months when children are out of school and no have no access to school lunches or breakfast. Youth impacted by hunger are more likely to face developmental and health challenges that can impair learning and emotional development. If we come together as a community there’s plenty more that we can do to ensure no youth goes hungry.

We feel most alive when we focus outward rather than on ourselves, whether it be helping the elderly, smiling at a stranger, complimenting someone, or a simple text or phone call, every effort counts towards a greater purpose. During my experience, being a friend to someone in need and offering them a place to stay while they have nothing, can make a huge difference in their life and also give them the means to be able to continue going to school without worrying when their next meal or shower will be coming from. This simple gesture of getting involved in the conversation can potentially inspire future generations to be the change we all wish to see in our community.

Big cities can be labeled as one of the most lavishing places to live, but one must ask, how can we continue to label ourselves with such high regard when there are so many homeless struggling every single day. A community is a place where individuals should have a sense of belonging. A place that should be filled with unity and compassion for the ones around you. How can we continue to build our communities up, when so many of our youth are carelessly being left behind and forgotten? How can our communities have a sense of home and belonging when there are so many without roofs over their heads or a nourishing meal to eat? California communities need to coordinate resources that include stable housing, education, employment, and emotional well-being to help our homeless students because the state of today’s youth affects the future of our nation tomorrow. One small group of people in a local community can help start the change by getting involved to see how we can help our local students come out on top.