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posted: 12/23/2013 5:00 AM

Put more focus on homeless youths

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This is in response to the Oct. 29 editorial, "Creative solutions to homelessness needed." Missing from recent stories and editorials about homelessness is any mention of the 25,000 Illinois youth who are homeless without their families. This number matters because we are not providing the needed resources to reverse the trend of homeless youth, and we are paying the price as a society and as taxpayers.

These youth are not "throwaway kids," and they are highly vulnerable. They may have been rejected by parents or guardians due to teen pregnancy, sexual orientation or family separation due to homelessness or incarceration. Homeless youth have a 33 percent chance of being actively recruited for sexual exploitation and are at increased risk for victimization, hospitalization, adult homelessness and premature death. Many have undiagnosed health or mental health care needs, and even if diagnosed it is hard to get prescriptions and take medicines without stable housing.

There are 21 Illinois-funded providers of services to homeless youth, but they were able to serve only 2,000 youth ages 16 to 21 in fiscal year 2013. That means that 95 percent of youth living on their own without families are unable to access services.

As a result, they are at risk of being involved in very expensive state systems. It costs an average of $85,000 to incarcerate one juvenile for one year and $20,800 to serve one youth 18 years or older in the Department of Children and Family Services system. In comparison, homeless youth programs cost $10,000 per youth per year to house and provide support services in a community-based program.

Let's encourage our legislators and local officials to become aware and invest in programs that to date have effectively helped 87 percent of youth served move into safe, stable housing.

Andrea Durbin

Chief executive officer

Illinois Collaboration on Youth

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