Suicide and substance abuse are killing homeless youth living on the streets of San Francisco. That's the finding from a new University of California, Berkley study that found those street kids are at 10 times higher risk of death than their peers of the same race, age and gender.
“This population is highly stigmatized. That stigma leads to neglect and, in turn, to increased mortality. All the deaths in this cohort were preventable,” said the study’s main author, Colette Auerswald, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist who is an associate professor of public health at UC Berkeley. “Stigma kills,” she adds.
Global study says poverty the cause
An international study led by a University of Toronto researcher found that poverty – not delinquency – is the leading cause of youth homelessness around the world. Involving more than 13,500 young people in 24 countries, the study published by JAMA Pediatrics is believed to be the first of its kind, according to The Star.
"The street-connected children and youth who provided reasons for their street involvement infrequently identified delinquent behaviors for their circumstances and highlighted the role of poverty as a driving factor," the JAMA study concluded. "They require support and protection, and governments globally are called on to reduce the socioeconomic inequities that cause children and youth to turn to the streets in the first place, in all regions of the world."
“Given our study’s findings, criminalizing youth or instituting policies that assume they are thieves, delinquents or drug addicts, won’t help,” said lead researcher Paula Braitstein, associate professor of epidemiology at University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, who is based in Kenya.
Homeless at 15
Meanwhile, a new federal survey of homeless youth in 11 U.S. cities determined that more than half of them (51.2%) are on the streets because a parent or caregiver asked them to leave. Other reasons for being homeless included:
- Unable to find a job (24.7%)
- Being physically abused or beaten (23.8%)
- Problems in the home due to a caretaker’s drug or alcohol abuse (22.6%)
Only 29.5% said they had the option of returning home.
The study found that on average, young people became homeless for the first time at age 15 and about half of them had been in foster care.
Conducted by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the study was designed to help make the federal government more aware of what services homeless youth need.
"Bringing together stakeholders from all parts of the youth-serving community can help build the needed continuum of care -- prevention, early intervention, longer-term services and aftercare -- for homeless youth," the authors wrote. "Consolidating resources and forging service alliances among these stakeholders can further develop a homeless youth continuum of care that includes coordinated screening, assessment, intake, referral and data systems."
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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.
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