By Michael Yazhari
He was homeless because he was kicked out of his house. As a result, he couldn’t make it to school every day. Eventually, he had to drop out.
“I was unable to get my high school diploma because I had no permanent home address,” said the now 25-year old man from Worcester, who asked to remain anonymous because of the stigma attached to homelessness. “The school does not provide public transportation to those without an address and for me that seemed very unfair.”
At age 17, he was living under a bridge, taking baths in a nearby lake or public bathrooms. He had a job but didn’t make enough money to afford a place to live. For two years he slept under that bridge, through the cold of winter and heat of summer, trying to avoid the homeless men he felt “might be dangerous.”
Sleeping surrounded by graffiti covered walls, using a sheet as a door and a hoodie as a pillow, he was stuck with no options.
You see homeless people every day. They’re on the corner, waiting with a sign, hoping some kind person will lend them a dollar. But individual stories like this one provide a different perspective on the problem of homelessness in Worcester and its impact on youth.
Though the task is daunting, there are a number of ways in which local organizations are trying to help. The Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Worcester is one such organization that provides food and shelter for the homeless.
“[Our] shelter houses six families and roughly twenty people. There are eleven children, and two children between the age 13-18,” said Joanne Alley, a director at the organization.
Shelter staff do their best to try to keep kids in school.
“The children attend the schools they initially attended before their homelessness and the bus provides transportation although some are often transferred to the local school of the shelter,” Alley said. “It is a federal law that these children get an opportunity to attend school.” .
However, every child is not given that opportunity, and it is not a simple matter.
“National estimates have found that 1.3 to 1.7 million youth experience one night of homelessness a year, with 550,000 youth being homeless for a week or longer and 2/3 of them are age 15-17,” according to National Network For Youth data.
There are many causes of homelessness, including drug abuse, mental and physical disabilities, gambling, domestic abuse, unemployment and many more. Child abuse in the form of physical, psychological, sexual abuse, or neglect are some of the major causes of youth homelessness. Around forty percent of homeless are under the age of 18, according to covenant house statistics.
However, simply knowing the causes does not lead to a solution.
According to, Russell W. Rumberger PhD and professor of education in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at UC Santa Barbara, when referring to students who don’t graduate he said, “Compared to high school graduates, they are less likely find a job and earn a living wage, and more likely to be poor and to suffer from a variety of adverse health outcomes.”
When students are forced to drop out because of homelessness it can destroy their opportunities for a good future. Some continue to go to school and even make it to college. However, it’s easy to see how negatively homelessness can affect their lives. Homelessness is a problem that affects not only us here in Massachusetts but it is a problem that stretches across the United States.
According to the website of Open Door Mission, a nonprofit which aims to combat poverty and homelessness, “The average age of a homeless person is 9 years old. More than 3.5 million people are homeless every night, and 1.35 million are children. More than 30 percent of homeless families have an open case for child abuse or neglect. Of the 31.1 million people living in poverty, more than 12 million are children.”
Many adolescents in the LGBTQ community are suffering from homelessness, due to the fact that they sometimes are not accepted by family, and they often run away. There are emergency shelters, churches, transition programs, and safe havens with roughly “830, 120 year-round beds are available in a range of housing projects.” Half of those beds are full on a regular basis. According to a social solutions article, “shocking homelessness statistics.”
Massachusetts has congregate shelters, scattered site shelters, substance abuse shelters, hotels and other locations to try to combat homelessness.
Some homeless people are “living in cars, motels, or on the street.” In Massachusetts according to Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program.“6,562 families were assisted with emergency shelter or home base assistance,” according to Massachusetts Coalition for the homeless. Families with children represent 23% of the homeless population. 50% of homeless women are running away from domestic violence. Often, there are cases of child neglect attached to these homeless families.
By donating food or money to one of these scattered site shelters, congregate shelters, or churches, you help feed them and keep a roof over their head. Keeping youth off the street and in school is important for their futures and should be a priority across America.
Joanne Alley said the major things we can do to help the homeless are, “raise awareness, volunteer, help with personal care drives, and organize events.”