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Spirit of Justice: National Homeless Youth Awareness Month

By Laura Nelson

November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.  As we move into a season of thankfulness and look forward to gathering with loved ones, it’s important that we continue to educate ourselves and find ways to help those in our community who are experiencing this time as one of additional stress and danger.  

The number of unhoused individuals in Wake County has nearly doubled since 2020.1 This isn’t surprising as we think of the effect of the pandemic on jobs, or as we consider the current housing market and the sharp increase in average rent prices, with Raleigh’s increase doubling the rate of inflation and ranking us seventh in the nation for 2022’s highest rent increases.2  Children aren’t spared the consequences of these changes.  Over 4,700 children attending Wake County schools are considered homeless.3 This could mean they are sleeping in a shelter, a car, on a friend or family member’s couch, or outside.  Though their housing situation may change rapidly and frequently, only .49 percent of the total unhoused students in North Carolina are also identified as being migrant.4  This means that the children experiencing homelessness in our community have been here, grown up here, and are part of our churches, clubs and sports teams. Almost 10 percent of unhoused children in North Carolina are considered unaccompanied youth, meaning that they are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.  This could be because they ran away from home, were thrown out, or have been abandoned by their guardian.  Over 50 percent of these children report having experienced physical abuse at home, and one-third report surviving a sexual assault. 50 percent of children living in shelters report that their parents either told them to leave, or knew they were leaving and did not care.5  

These facts are heartbreaking.  Though we are a long way from eradicating homelessness, we do have ways to help those in need.  Wrenn House is Wake County’s only shelter solely for youth ages 10-17.  It is a program of Haven House Services, a local agency that serves over 1200 homeless or in-crisis youth each year.  There are many other shelters and programs in Wake County that serve unhoused children and are always in need of donations and volunteers, including Raleigh Rescue Mission, InterAct, Project CATCH at The Salvation Army, The Helen Wright Center, and Oak City Cares.  For youth already experiencing homelessness, the Homeless Youth Handbook is an incredibly valuable website that provides information on all topics from police interactions to healthcare and medical rights. 

Because LGBTQIA+ youth are disproportionately affected by homelessness, often due to being kicked out or abused by parents or guardians, many resources exist specifically for these youth.  QORRN, the Queer-Oriented Rural Resource Network, helps connect youth to housing, medical, legal, and educational services across the country.  The Trevor Project maintains a database of hotlines and emergency care providers for homeless youth in crisis. Time Out Youth helps connect LGBTQIA+ youth in crisis to resources in North Carolina, including faith based groups and places of worship.  Some other resources for unhoused youth are The National Runaway Switchboard (1-800-RUNAWAY), the National Youth Crisis Hotline (1-800-442-HOPE), the National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD), and this online Survival Guide for Independent LGBTQ Youth.

While we celebrate togetherness this season, may we also work to create a safer community for youth and families.