Monday, January 27, 2014

Apparently teenagers aren't people...

... At least not in the eyes of the Washington D.C. government.

Washington, like a few other cities, guarantees shelter for the homeless when the temperature falls below freezing. In practicality it doesn't always work out, and some homeless people decide they would rather stay outside than go to the shelters, but in general it's a good policy.

However, homeless teenagers apparently don't count as part of the homeless population when it comes to shelter. The law guarantees shelter for families with children and for adults ages 18 and older. But if you're a homeless person on your own between the ages of 12-17? Sorry, that law doesn't apply to you.

This is not mere oversight: this is purposeful. Last December, the Interagency Council on Homelessness voted down a proposal by homelessness advocates that would ensure hypothermia shelter for people ages 12-17 without a family. They say that it is the job of Child and Family Services, which in turn defers responsibility to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, which is simply not in the business of housing homeless teens.

Until last year (right in time for winter storms) the city funded Sasha Bruce house which provided shelter to teens. However, after funding was cut, none of the city agencies were willing to accept responsibility. This is also purposeful. As the director of CFS said to the Washington Post, "We found that the better practice was to stabilize the child with the family and bring counseling services to the family" rather than "encourage youths to run away."

Balderdash. Yes, that is the ideal situation. However, there are families which cannot be put back together with state-mandated counseling. There are teenagers who simply are not safe at home, for a variety of reasons. There are gay teenagers who are thrown out on the streets by their parents. And there are teens who break away from their families because they want to reduce the family's financial burden.

Moreover, those who work with homeless teens say that it's like pulling teeth to get them to accept help of any kind, mostly due to shame and embarrassment. Dropping funding for shelters isn't going to encourage teens to go back to home. What it will (and does) encourage is groups of teenagers squatting in abandoned buildings in the midst of violence, prostitution, and drugs. And freezing to death of course.

Check out the whole article. On a positive note, I am deeply in awe of Dan Davis who runs the only shelter for teens left in town. The work he does is amazing, and he is a real hero for reaching out to those whom the city has forgotten.

1 comment:

  1. It's sad when people can't see the difference between an ideal world and the real world, especially when the real world needs solutions NOW and we can't wait around for an ideal that may never exist. :(