" There's No Place Like Home, Problem is There Is No Home "
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Every year, during the Spring as consistent as Easter and Passover, there is the annual showing of the movie " The Wizard Of Ox ". Dorothy and Toto leave Kansas, caught up in the whirlwind and land thud on the ground. Their perspective changes from the black and white world of rural farm life into the technicolor world of Oz with its characters the scarecrow, the cowardly lion, the tin man, and the great Oz. We see Judy Garland in the ruby slippers singing again "Somewhere Over The Rainbow. " This evokes a longing for wanderlust and adventure.
For homeless young people, however, there is anything but somewhere over the rainbow. Instead of the cowardly lion, scarecrow, or tin man there are hustlers, human traffickers, drug dealers. As I mentioned earlier, seeing the throngs of homeless young people, several summers ago, on Broadway in downtown Portland, Or reminded me of the Les Miserable poster of the young waif girl looking forlorn and not knowing what will happen to her.
A recent study regarding homeless youth in San Francisco has revealed:
A study by UC Berkeley researchers tracked 218 homeless young people over six years; in that time 11 died largely due to suicide or substance abuse . Young people living on the streets of San Francisco have a mortality rate that is more than 10 times higher than those who have a place to live, largely because of suicide or substance abuse, according to a study from the UC Berkeley school of public health.
Dr. Colette " Coco "Auerswald and her research team studied 218 young homeless people ranging in age from 15 to 24. Two-thirds of the youths were male and one-third were female.
All had reported "unstable housing" for at least two days during the previous six months, meaning they lived outside of their homes with people who were not in their families - in cars, shelters, squats, on public transportation, in single-room occupancy hotels, or outdoors, with strangers.
Over the course of the study, 11 of them died. That's 5% of the study group, a rate 10.6 times higher than what would be. Of the eight young men and three young women who died, two-thirds had injected drugs at some point. The study also showed that young homeless women were slightly more likely to die than young homeless men. Their mortality rate was 16.1% greater than their peers, while young men in the study died at a rate 9.4% greater than their peers. expected for a similar group matched for age, race and gender. Three of the homeless youths killed themselves. One was a homicide victim. Others were cut down by substance abuse. Mortality rate for homeless youth in San Francisco is 10 times higher than peers The Guardian - 4 hours ago
The results of this study are not surprising regarding homeless youth in San Francisco, Ca or Portland, Or or elsewhere, what is surprising is that the numbers are not higher. The ever-growing numbers of homeless youth that we are seeing on our American streets result from lots of family disruption, physical abuse, sexual abuse etc. and youth who are fleeing very desperate family of origin environments. Young people are also facing the pressure regarding lack of jobs, lack of educational,vocational training and lack of affordable housing. Thus we shouldn't be terribly surprised seeing large numbers of young people camping out in front of a downtown Nordstrom's store.
What we should be terribly concerned about is letting this tragic situation to continue. The continuing phenomena of homeless youth will only generate more HIV infection, more STDS, more addiction and more violence and unfortunately more deaths due to vulnerable young people being in intolerable situations.
Churches, especially downtown churches, social service agencies, city governments etc. need to form effective alliances that can develop programs of feeding, housing, job and vocational training, health care programs, medical care including clean needle exchange programs, sexual health and mental health treatment for homeless youth and their family members. This type of comprehensive scope of program services is essential if we really want to reduce the numbers of homeless youth in our country.
Judy Garland did sing:
"Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can't I ? "
( Over The Rainbow )
We can only help young people realize the promise of the rainbow, the promise of new and improved life only by providing for them the basics of life, of bread, of shelter, of charity, of grace. Jesus said " Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me. " ( Matthew 25:40 ).
May we provide these young people home. May we realize that we all need a sense of home to call our own.
May it be so.