A new report about youth homelessness in Texas highlights a need for comprehensive policies and a funding stream to address the ongoing issue.
Texas Appleseed partnered with Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS) and conducted more than 100 interviews with youth who had experienced or are experiencing homelessness in Texas. Both groups also pulled data from state agencies related to youth.
Clair Cole, 19, became homeless when she was 16. “I had a lot of struggles connecting with family especially in that time of my life,” she said. “I was going through a lot. They were going through a lot.”
Cole relied on couch surfing to find places to stay. But as time passed, it became harder. “[I was] feeling like I was a burden, a lot of just trying to sink into the background and just be there without being there,” she said.
She’s now 19, received her GED and has her own small business making jewelry. She also serves as a Lifeworks Youth Ambassador in Austin, raising awareness about what services are available under their provider program.
“I would never want anyone to experience the feeling of not feeling welcome in your own home,” she said.
Lifeworks says each evening it shelters or houses more than 140 youth. There’s also a counseling division for individuals and families who deal with abuse, trauma, anxiety or other stressors.
“If I had known there was an emergency shelter, I would’ve gone straight there,” she said.
The report by Texas Appleseed and TNOYS says each year, at least 1,000 students who have dealt with homelessness repeat a grade and 1,400 drop out. It also says youth in foster care are in high risk of becoming homeless. In 2016, a total of 1,250 youth aged out of foster care on their 18th birthday. In that same year, more than 1,000 children in Texas ran away from a foster care placement.
Gabriella McDonald, the pro bono and new projects director for Texas Appleseed, said schools are on the front lines of this issue, but too often, it’s hard to track.
“Sometimes, schools don’t find out they have youth who [are] experiencing homelessness until they have someone who is about to graduate and it’s time to pay for their cap and gown,” McDonald said.
Both organizations have recommended that Texas form a statewide task force led by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. They also want lawmakers to form a dedicated funding source to support prevention and intervention services for at-risk and homeless youth.
“There’s state funding for youth, there’s state funding for homelessness, but there’s not state funding for youth who are homeless,” McDonald said.
Terry Cole runs Street Youth Ministry. The organization holds several relationship-building events, focused around art, guidance counseling and teamwork.
“We meet them where they are,” he said. He said too often youth who face homelessness are stigmatized and viewed differently.
“They’re a developing young adult,” he said. “They have exactly the same needs as any young adult.”