During a recent conversation with Thomas Lee, the director of Youth Moving On, Hillsides program of services for youth 18-25 formerly in former foster or probation, it became obvious that the odds against these young people are significant. In its first year of operations, the YMO Peer Resource Center, a one-stop shop of support for youth, received approximately 5,000 visits representing more than 500 individuals seeking services. According to Thomas, almost 60 percent of the youth who visited the Center were technically homeless — without any permanent sustainable housing.
Homelessness for youth formerly in foster care is a perilous predicament; it often leads to tragedy and a cycle of decline that is hard to elude. Consider the following:
- Each year, an estimated 380,000 youth under 18 experience homelessness
- In Los Angeles County, 5,737 youth 18 -24 are homeless, according to the latest census by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Youth who are homeless are much more likely to become victims of crime, especially violent crimes. A study of these youth found that 76% had been victims of a crime in the previous 12 months.
- Research conducted by the Williams Institute suggests that about 40% of homeless youth receiving services identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Young people who come from the greater Los Angeles metro area for services at the Peer Resource Center seek a pathway to break the cycle of homelessness and to set them in the direction of an independent life. While they share a goal, their stories are nevertheless unique. The task of the staff is to recognize youths’ uniqueness and craft individual plans that help them achieve the freedom for which they long. For some youth, this freedom will come from finding a more stable place to live. For others, it is maneuvering an obstacle-laden social services system or gaining access to mental health services. For still others, it means getting into school or finding a job.
In the midst of these young people are peers who have successfully made their way through the post- foster care gauntlet and have beaten the odds. They have avoided incarceration and homelessness and come to the center to offer guidance, assurance, and hope for those still new to the enterprise of becoming independent.
One young man stands out among the rest. Once involved in gangs and at risk of being deported back to Central America, he arrived at YMO committed to turning his life around. He overcame prejudice against youth in the probation system and proved himself to be a hard worker who respected the opportunity that was given to him in the work place. Bolstered by hard-earned wages, he set on a path to discover his passion and develop a plan to achieve his dreams. Today his efforts have gained him financial independence, secure housing, and a rewarding job as a peer counselor for youth like himself at YMO.
This young man is proof that although the odds may be considerable, failure is not inevitable. Like him, others can achieve the same success and become youth that move on beyond the desperate statistics and serve an inspiration for others. I am glad our Youth Moving On program and Peer Resource Center are there to help and guide other youth in achieving self-sufficiency.