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Recently-Released Survey Reveals Issues Surrounding Springfield's Homeless Youth

The survey, conducted by the Homeless Youth Subcommittee of Community Partnership’s Continuum of Care with the help of Missouri State University, was completed by 515 high risk and homeless youths ages 12 to 26 in early 2012.

Tim Knapp, sociology professor at MSU, says this survey went further than the previous two in that it looked more into contributing factors to homelessness and suggested prevention strategies.

One significant finding, he says, is that young people who had been homeless with their families were twice as likely as those who weren’t to become homeless alone.

Another finding:  youth who had been a ward of the state, are non-heterosexual, runaways, those who had a parent with a drug or alcohol problem, individuals with mental illness and those who had been a victim of or witness to repeated traumatic events in a caregiver situation had rates of homelessness at least 20 percentage points higher.

And, Knapp says they found that most youth who ran away from home did so to escape turbulent situations…

"Running away obviously is linked to teen homelessness--there's an obvious connection there. What we don't often see is that that's not the first step.  Running away is a second step in a sequence of events in at least 2/3 in our standpoint, in national studies even more than that--3/4 or so are running away from difficult family situations," he said.

He says the recommended preventions include research-based prevention strategies…

"They are ways to identify youth who are going through difficult family situations or family situations that are troubling--sometimes it's adults that indicate it--sometimes it's the young people and then to have a range of interventions.  You can be faith based, it can be public based by organizations.  It can be family counseling.  It can be conflict resolution.  It can be improvement of parenting skills, communication skills, so the idea there is to improve the quality of family life so that the young person doesn't run away from that situation," he said.

Knapp says doing nothing now results in increased costs down the road for a broader range of services for these young people.

Todd Duncan is chairman of the Homeless Youth Subcommittee.  He says the survey puts a face on the Springfield area’s high risk and homeless youth.  He hopes that encourages people to help turn these young people’s lives around…

"Just like the old cartoon when you're heading out in the desert--last chance for gas, and for a lot of these kids they're on the path to chronic adult homelessness.  We see in the survey results and the work that we do we're seeing the cycle of poverty.  We're seeing the young high risk  and homeless youth becoming early parents.  We're seeing them, you know, without the financial security.  That all rolls into the chronically homeless adult," he said.

In order to raise awareness of homeless youth in Southwest Missouri, the 4th annual Springfield Sleepout will be held this Friday night through Saturday morning (11/9-11/10) at MSU’s Plaster Sports Complex.  Participants will sleep in cardboard boxes, tents and sleeping bags.  Proceeds benefit Rare Breed Youth Services.  For details, www.springfieldsleepout.org.