The face of drug abuse is as diverse as the human race. Anyone can find themselves in a battle against drugs, from the girl next door to the cashier checking you out at the store. Drugs do not discriminate, but some people have a greater risk of drug abuse in comparison to others. One such group of people is that of homeless and runaway youths.
1.7 Million Youth in Danger
According to NN4Youth.org, national estimates have found that between 1.3 and 1.7 million youth experience a single night of homelessness within a year.
The most recent national study by the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children found that some 1,6852,900 youth in our nation were reported to authorities to be located and endangered by their runaway or thrownaway episode. The study indicates that 71 percent (1,190,900 youth) were faced with a substance dependency and use of hard drugs.
Studies reported on by the National Conference of State Legislature found:
- 1 in 7 youth between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away.
- Youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are at a greater risk of homelessness versus adults.
- 75 percent of runaway youth are female.
- 6 to 22 percent of homeless girls are pregnant.
- 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning.
- 46 percent of homeless and runaway youth have been physically abused.
- 38 percent have been emotionally abused.
- 17 percent have been forced into unwanted sexual activity
- 75 percent of runaway and homeless youth have or are willing to drop out of school.
Drugs rapidly become a major part of the homeless and runaway culture because they appear to be the solution to the most common reasons youths become homeless or choose to runaway.
Why Runaway or Homeless Youth Turn to Drugs
The three top contributing factors to so many youths becoming runaways or homeless are family problems, transitions from foster care and other public systems (source: Blue Sky Swanwick), and economic problems.
The act of running away and the impact of becoming homeless propels our nation’s youth into a dangerous situation. They find themselves with nothing—no money, no home, no means to acquire the necessities of life. They become vulnerable and more likely to suffer from severe anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
Youth on the streets are more likely to land in trouble with the law, usually over drug or alcohol related charges. How prevalent is substance abuse in these youth? A Los Angeles study of 432 displaced youth found that 71 percent had a drug or alcohol abuse disorder (sometimes both).
Youth at Risk of Drug Abuse
Dr. Christopher Ringwalt, Jody Greene, and their colleagues from the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina analyzed three national surveys of substance use among youth between the ages of 12 and 21. Their findings include the following facts:
- Youths living on the streets are at a far greater risk of drug abuse for nearly every drug surveyed.
- Youths living on the streets are more likely to become involved in more severe drug use.
- Drug abuse rates across the nation are higher in youths who are runaways and/or homeless.
- At the time of the survey analysis, 75 percent of displaced youths were using marijuana and 25 percent were using cocaine, inhalants, and even sedatives.
Dr. Ringwalt’s conclusion is that the very high amounts of drug abuse in these youth highlights “the critical need for intervention and treatment services [specifically] for runaway and homeless youth.”
Helping High Risk Youth in Our Community
The exact number of homeless and/or runaway youth in North Carolina is unknown; a number is hard to estimate due to their mobility. However, if you were to average the 1.7 million homeless and/or runaway youth in our nation across all 50 states, then North Carolina’s estimation of at risk kids would be roughly 34,000.
Ringwalt points out that “in planning interventions, we [cannot] consider runaways and homeless [youth] as a single, homogeneous population.” Drugs do not discriminate, and factors from age and gender to ethnicity and living conditions all contribute to the likelihood of a youth trying and eventually abusing drugs.
The goal of our community should be to better reach the youth on the street. But how?
Reaching Street Kids with Drug Education
Ringwalt suggests that drug intervention and treatment service providers can make great strides in reaching street kids with vital drug education. One way of doing so is by increasing the visibility of service providers with mobile vans and outreach staff.
Our youth living on the streets of Charlotte, and the streets of other cities throughout North Carolina, face an ever increasing risk of debilitating drug and alcohol problems. They lack role models, and they often find themselves dealing with addictive substances as currency, a means to gaining necessities, and relief from the heightened stress they cope with every day.
More aggressive outreach strategies could be the key to accessing and aiding our street youths. But outreach only works when people within the community take the time and make an effort to reach out. Change begins with you and involves all of us.
How You Can Help
Did you know you can help improve the lives of homeless and runaway youth? Simple actions, like aiding community outreach programs, can go a long way.
Charlotte has several programs in place to help give kids a place to go other than the streets. You can look into volunteering or donating to assist these local programs:
- A Child’s Place
- The Urban Ministry Center
- The Children’s Alliance
- Charlotte Homeless Shelters and Services
- StandUp for Kids
If you know a youth who is struggling with a drug abuse or dependency disorder, do not be afraid to ask for help. Drug treatment providers can help you reach out to them, and together we can offer the kind of intervention, treatment, and education these young ones need.
Will you reach out to make a difference in your local community?