Earlier this week, my teenage son set out on a backpacking trip in the Gallatin National Forest in Montana. Having been raised by parents who prefer to vacation in large urban areas rather than the great outdoors, I've spent some time this week worrying about whether he was ready for the challenge. My worries escalated when I learned that the recent bear attack was not far from where his group is hiking. Lacking the details of his trip plan, along with the reminder that there are predator bears out there in the forest, made for a couple of hours of worrying. However, if all goes as planned, my son will return home this weekend and resume his rather comfortable life that includes parents, a roof over his head and doors to keep the wildlife out.
This isn't the case for many teens and young adults. The most recent Wilder Homeless Survey found that there were nearly 1300 homeless teens and young adults living in Minnesota. Young adults (age 18-21) experienced the largest percent increase (57%), with numbers increasing from 661 in 2006 to 1,041 in 2009. During this same time, unaccompanied minors increased by 10%.
Homeless youth often come from troubled homes only to risk new dangers while living on the streets. A recent study by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska, Anchorage found that about one in three homeless youth had been in foster care at some point in their lives and many faced multiple barriers including mental illness, teen pregnancy, unemployment, lack of education, and legal troubles. In their Homeless Youth fact sheet, the National Coalition for the Homeless reports that "many homeless adolescents find that exchanging sex for food, clothing, and shelter is their only chance of survival on the streets. In turn, homeless youth are at a greater risk of contracting AIDS or HIV-related illnesses."