Youth Homelessness: The Unseen Faces on the Streets

youth homelessness

A person experiencing homelessness may not be as obviously spotted as the average American may think. Sometimes it is an older man with an overgrown beard, but other times it is a young adult with a dog and a backpack.

Amber Loritts, 24, has been on the streets of Pasadena for a year after traveling to California from New York to escape her abusive parents. Since losing her wallet promptly after arriving in California, she has been homeless and struggling to take care of herself and her puppy, who aids Amber for her PTSD. 

“I got here and lost everything,” says Loritts. “I became homeless almost instantly, and since I do not have an I.D., it has been so difficult to get a housing voucher from the government.”

After an employment bust with the Church of Scientology, Amber has been struggling to find the money to find an appropriate source of employment. “I was employed for about a week at the Scientology center. I worked 13 hours every single day for a week and got paid $19 at the end. It was while I was already in the process of receiving a housing voucher. But they were hardly paying me enough to get a motel room for a night.”

Loritts is taking part in a program for homeless youth called “Youth Moving On” where she is able to find a shower and a moment to let her guard down.

As if living on the street was not hard enough, Loritts revealed a further complication in her life. “I’m hypoglycemic, so sometimes I’ll go a day without eating and get very lightheaded. There have been a couple of times when I had to find a way to the hospital so I wouldn’t die. I can’t die — I have to take care of my dog.”

Due to the increase in rent in the Los Angeles area, Amber counts on being in either government housing or on the streets for another five years at the least. “It’s been hard to get a job. I can hardly get a shower, and you can’t trust anyone to take care of your animal,” says Loritts. 

Youth homelessness is a growing problem, and it may be hard to pinpoint the blame. Andy Bales, the founder of Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row, gave some insight to the epidemic.

“We have created the worst man-made disaster in the United States and we are not taking the emergency action required to address this epidemic of epic proportions while thousands upon thousands suffer the daily and nightly devastation of homelessness.  If even one were suffering, it would be too much — but it is thousands.”

The portion of unsheltered homeless people is considerably more than those who have a safe place to sleep, being about 40,000 people

A Deeper Understanding

Since 2017, there has been an influx of homeless youth. In 2017, there were a reported 3,000 young people on the streets of Los Angeles. The organization My Friend’s Place, located in Hollywood, has been a refuge for homeless youth since 1990.

Erin Casey, who works as the Director of Program’s at My Friend’s Place comments on the systematic barriers being placed on homeless youth: “This is about systemic racism,” says Casey. “This is about economic, social, and racial justice. These are some super oppressive systems these kids are dealing with. They flee from abusive homes and foster homes, and then what? They are abused by the system that should be helping them.”

According to the data featured on the My Friend’s Place website, collected from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 25 percent of former foster youth nationwide reported that they had been homeless at least one night within two-and-a-half to four years after exiting foster care.

The foster system in the U.S. is known not only for the mistreatment of youth but is also known to be breeding grounds for human trafficking.

A recent study revealed that since 2014, the homeless youth population has increased 20x. This booming statistic has made an impact on other staff members at My Friend’s Place.

Jeff Katz, the Associate Director of Development at My Friend’s Place, spoke briefly about the horrendous reality of living in Los Angeles as a young person experiencing homelessness: “one of our girls [from My Friend’s Place] works at a high-end restaurant and saves every penny. She’s almost militant about it; She’s so responsible, and yet she can’t afford housing in this city. It’s absolutely ridiculous.” 

To contact or donate to My Friend’s Place to help homeless youth, click here.