During the summer of 2016, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention counted 2,251 homeless teens between the ages of 13- and 17-years-old and young adults between the ages of 18- and 24-years-old in Indianapolis.
Local homelessness advocates fear the actual number is even worse.
“That’s one in fifty young adults and one in one hundred youth,” said Alan Witchey, Executive Director of CHIP who compared local findings with national averages. “This may only be 20 percent of the total population in the city of youth and young adults who are homeless every year.”
The statistics show that 47 percent of the young teens thrown into homeless do so without a parent, guardian or other adult in their lives.
“We talked to one young woman whose mother just abandoned her and moved out of state and left her behind and she was a minor and she was not expecting homelessness and was struggling to survive on her own,” said Witchey.
Fifty percent of the females surveyed said they were fleeing violence or sex trafficking. Three percent of the teenage girls were pregnant or already mothers. Five percent of the teens said they had traded sex for a place to stay. Fifty-one percent had experience with foster care but 74 percent said they wouldn’t seek help because they feared being returned to state custody and 64 percent said they feared being returned home.
“There is a lot of predators and there is a lot of people out here who will see that and try to take advantage of them,” said Tiffany Pettiford, who escaped homelessness as a young adult to become a peer counselor. “A lot of times a youth don’t want to ask for help, don’t know how to ask for help.”
The report lays out several approaches to minimizing the youth homelessness experience in an attempt to curb the trauma young people suddenly thrown out on the streets suffer.
Those approaches include finding the children literally where they live, go to school and hang out, plugging them into support services, developing crisis response services and long term plans for housing, education and employment.
“We need housing options for young people,” said Witchey, who maintains many youth are disappearing between the cracks of home and state mandated services. “We know the longer that you experience homelessness the longer the trauma experience and that makes it harder to find stability later.”