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Report Reveals Unique Needs of Michigan's Unaccompanied Youths

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Unaccompanied youths are vulnerable to physical victimization, sexual exploitation and untreated mental health issues. (Adobe Stock)
Unaccompanied youths are vulnerable to physical victimization, sexual exploitation and untreated mental health issues. (Adobe Stock)
October 8, 2019

LANSING, Mich. — Growing up in homelessness is tough for any child, and thousands of kids in Michigan are navigating the streets without the care of a parent or guardian.

There are more than 4,800 "unaccompanied youth" in Michigan's K-12 schools. And a new report said they are vulnerable to physical victimization, sexual exploitation and untreated mental-health issues.

Parker James is Kids Count Policy Analyst with the Michigan League for Public Policy, which released the report.

"We want to make sure kids are economically secure, that they're healthy, that they're safe and that they have a supportive family and community,” James said. “And all of those things are really hard to do if you don't have a place to stay."

According to the findings, black, Latinx, American Indian and gender-nonconforming youth are over-represented among those under age 24 accessing homeless services. The League has a new tool to help those who work with these youths and young adults to examine the demographics of the homeless population and determine the number of unaccompanied youths in their Intermediate School District.

James explained most homeless programs focus on families or single adults, and the report recommends communities strengthen the network of resources tailored to the unique needs of people between the ages of 12 and 24. For example, he noted, drop-in programming is a popular option.

"Get creative and use existing infrastructure to create low-stakes programming where youths can come in, get hygiene supplies, get food, take a shower, get those things that they really need,” he said. “And that can be an entry point for other services."

Forty-four percent of youths facing homelessness have reported having stayed in jail, prison or a juvenile detention center at some point. James encourages the expansion of the Michigan Youth Re-Entry Model, which is currently in use at the Department of Health and Human Services and in Oakland County.

"And it really helps to provide wrap-around services for youths from the moment that they enter a juvenile justice facility and then after they're exiting that, and providing ongoing case management and support and particularly identifying stable housing," he said.

Other recommendations to help unaccompanied youths include creating a dedicated funding source for the Michigan Housing and Community Development Fund, which James said could provide older youths with rental assistance for permanent housing along with supportive services that promote independence.

Disclosure: Michigan League for Public Policy/KIDS COUNT contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Children's Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families, Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI