Common Good Iowa

Young and homeless during Covid 

Posted on May 21, 2020 at 5:50 PM by Stephen Dykstra

Homeless youth are navigating Covid-19 absent the safe harbor our homes are for many of us. But advocates are working hard to make sure they’re not alone. This week on the podcast, Andrea Dencklau (Youth Policy Institute of Iowa) and Elizabeth Patten (Iowa Youth Homeless Centers) join Anne to walk through youth homelessness in our state in the time of coronavirus.

Homeless youth — those 16-24 years old — typically have experienced violence, involvement in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems or disrupted adoptions or identify as LGBTQ+ and have unwelcoming families. Of the estimated 2,300 Iowans who experienced homelessness last year, 6 percent were young adults (age 18-24), according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, and more than 7,100 youth were homeless at some point during the year. 

Their age presents unique circumstances and challenges that distinguish them from adults. 

“We know that due to their age and their brain development their experiences are different and they need those youth-specific services,” said Elizabeth Patten. “Young adults are still learning about independence and establishing their own identities — and then they’re forced to navigate these adult services to get their basic needs met, but they don’t necessarily have the knowledge to effectively do it.”

Patten oversees the Youth Opportunity Center at Iowa Youth Homeless Centers, helping youth in central Iowa overcome homelessness through emergency shelter, resources and case management. Covid has ramped up the challenges this group faces, said Patten. “Most of us are able to quarantine in our homes with people who support us, and not having that has been a huge challenge for our youth." 

Iowa Youth Homeless Centers has worked diligently to adapt to the pandemic, with many of their services going virtual. Emergency shelter remains accessible, to-go meals are available for pick up and mobile outreach efforts continue to deliver essentials to youth in the area. But despite these efforts, many youth have struggled to find or keep jobs, locate affordable housing or avoid isolation. 

But we all can play a role in supporting homeless youth in our state, said Andrea Dencklau of the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa. A first step is to listen to youth and catch and address warning signs early. “I think we still have a scared mentality about teenagers — we don’t quite understand them. We really need to flip the switch and trust them, listen to them and offer opportunities for them to thrive.”

We also need to help youth overcome systemic barriers by re-imagining the type of interventions in place: mental health access, affordable housing, living wages and a fair criminal justice system. “What kind of community responses can we have that respond to their needs and help nurture these youth?” says Dencklau. “If a young person can’t remain at home, what’s their second option? It should not ever be the street or making impossible choices that no one should have to make.”     

Learn more about Iowa Youth Homeless Centers and the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa

Categories: Youth & young adults

Tagged As: Homelessness

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