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Invited to speak was 7-year old Jonas Corona, founder of Love In The Mirror who served to remind us that anyone of any age can make a difference, and Ehecatl Rojas, outreach coordinator for Los Angeles Youth Network who described the conditions under which a youth might find him/herself homeless:
- The foster care population in the United States is approximately 496,000 (2007 figure)
- 20,000 youth leave foster care nationally each year with no job or income, few educational prospects and little emotional support or community connections
- 20%-50% of these kids will find themselves homeless within 6 months due to lack of resources and support.
- It’s estimated that between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away or are kicked out of their home each year.
- 21% of teens who ran away from home did so due to current episodes of sexual and/or physical abuse within the home.
- Approximately 5.8 million children were involved in an estimated 3.2 million child abuse reports and allegations.
- Beyond abuse or neglect the trigger to run away can happen just as easily from rejection based on youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
- 47% of teens in public school say that drugs are used, this suggests as many as 5.7 million public school children in the U.S. attend schools with both drugs and gangs.
- 11% of all alcohol in the United States is consumed by youth ages 12-20 years.
- Children who have been sexually abused are 3.8 times more likely to develop drug addictions.
- Almost 30% of youth in the United States (or over 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both.
- 46% of teens in public schools say there are gangs in schools.
Causes of youth homelessness also include the typical suspects – lack of affordable housing, poverty, unemployment, and mental health. Many homeless youth lack the finances, skills, maturity and independent living skills that can help them end their homelessness.
Beyond learning about the causes of homelessness, participants were taught some of the ways they could help.
- Change Attitudes About Homeless People
In general, society sees homeless people as morally and socially inferior. The fact that a homeless youth has gone through an overwhelmingly harsh existence which overtakes her or her ability to cope – mentally, emotionally or physically – is an important fact about which to educate the public.
- Organize Sock Drives
Socks are basic necessities that many in our homeless communities have to do without. Rain wear, such as lightweight raincoats or ponchos can also be very helpful depending on where you live and the time of year.
- Stuff Care Packages In Backpacks
Filling backpacks with vital hygiene items (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, anti-perspirant, deodorant, washcloth, shavers, shaving cream and feminine products) as well as zip-lock bags (especially the durable gallon-size freezer bags) are very useful for keeping hygiene items together and for protecting things like clothing items and books from getting wet in the rain. A small flashlight, a small radio can be a great comfort and an ample supply of batteries are helpful. Backpacks allow the homeless to carry all of their belongings with them at all times, and will lessen the risk of having donated items lost or stolen.
- Donate Gift Card or Voucher Donations
From local restaurants and drug stores to clothing outlets and shoe stores, an alternative to giving cash, gift cards or vouchers can help steer purchasing decisions in the right direction.
Though not anticipated, the bite of the damp ocean wind did reinforce to participants how cold it must be to live on the streets. 150 emergency blankets were passed around for warmth of the body but also to provide these kids with the opportunity to craft an Ornament Of Hope for a homeless peer. The messages were both breath-taking and inspiring, and they came from kids ages 7 through 17:
- “You Are Loved, Believe In Yourself”
- “Be Strong”
- “Be The Strength You Want To See In The World”
- “You Pack A Punch In The World, You Are Powerful”
- “Don’t Follow Your Dreams, Lead Them”
Finally, we invited the kids to pin these messages and stencil one word on each blanket: “HOPE.”