Homelessness among youths on the rise, lawmakers told

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Homelessness among young people in Vermont is growing worse, social service providers Wednesday told a group of legislators and child poverty experts.

Kreig Pinkham, director of the Washington County Youth Services Bureau, and others said issues experienced by a growing number of homeless youths have intensified and become more complex in the past five years.

Advocates at a meeting of the Vermont Child Poverty Council discussed challenges specific to Vermont, such as the state's rural nature, as well as nationwide issues they witness, including a large number of youths who are homeless because they are gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual.

Pinkham said the state should devote more money and resources to helping these youths get jobs, housing and education.

"It takes financial resources," said Calvin Smith, director of the Vermont Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs. He also said the statewide landscape of youth services is fractured and should be more cohesive.

In rural Vermont, homeless youths often couch-surf with friends or strangers or sleep in cars or abandoned buildings, he said. Most have experienced violence or trauma and leave home because of conflict. Many come from generational poverty.

"They're very good at remaining intentionally invisible," Smith said.

Amanda Churchill, director of youth development at the Washington County Youth Services Bureau, which is also the Boys and Girls Club, shared data about the youths the group serves.

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Fourteen percent of youths they served in fiscal year 2014 had children of their own, 9 percent were homeless and 6 percent were incarcerated at some point during the year, she said.

In addition, 70 percent of youths age 18 and older had employment, 80 percent had a high school degree and 30 percent had post-secondary education or training. Churchill said this data indicates they are not yet the most needy youths.

Her program wants to focus on pregnancy prevention or postponement, parenting education, and child care. Foster care youths are more likely to become pregnant earlier, have subsequent births and abuse or neglect their children, she said.

DCF workers also shared information about the number of homeless youth they served last year in shelters.

Between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, the state housed 891 people age 18 or younger in emergency shelters, domestic violence shelters, veterans shelters and youth shelters via Vermont's Emergency Solutions Grant program, a combination of state and federal funding.

Overall, the number of people staying in ESG-funded emergency shelters decreased in FY 2014, but the number of people 18 and younger rose, according to data provided by DCF.

At the same time, 92 percent of youths leaving emergency shelters had "safe exits" to places to live, including with family or friends, residential treatment, college, the military or independent living.

The committee Wednesday took no action but could propose legislation next session.


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