In a city as culturally rich, diverse and flooded with tourism as Santa Fe is, it is easy to forget a struggling demographic exists here. According to Youth Shelters and Family Services, nearly 600 youth become homeless each year in the City Different. I recently sat down with Gwendolyn Douglass, Melissa Frank and Lizzy Lyons of the Youth Shelters and Family Services, a non-profit organization serving youth and families in Northern New Mexico to discuss the misconceptions and facts of youth homelessness, as well as try to bring awareness to an issue that is often forgotten.
There are many misconceptions about homelessness, such as all homeless people are drunks, they all can get a job, or they don't try hard enough to get off the streets. However, especially among youth, many homeless people leave not because of financial situations but because of abusive parents, unstable home lives, or to get away from unhealthy choices being made by their family members or friends. Also, many youths seek alternative resources (close friends, coworkers, etc.) before resorting to a youth shelter or homeless shelter. Most importantly however, there is never one simple explanation for why youths leave home, but many only do so when it becomes their last option.
As mentioned above, there are many reasons why youths leave their home environments; what is more important is that we remain aware of those around us-our coworkers, friends, our local barista. A youth you know and encounter on a regular basis could be struggling and may be trying to tell you in a subtle way. If you suspect someone you know is in a precarious situation offer support and care, and if you have the means, a temporary place to stay if an emergency occurs. Simply just being aware and supportive of those around you can be enough.
If you do happen to realize someone in your life is going through a difficult time and needs assistance, seek help as soon as possible. Although your friend may be afraid or resistant to the help, encouraging them to seek an anonymous, caring and supportive shelter or organization is only for their benefit and safety. The Youth Shelters and Family Services attempts to prevent youth homelessness, provide a safe and caring environment, and help young people get out of whatever situation they have found themselves to be in. Their programs are anonymous and are only helpful to the extent to which the youth needs their assistance. Because homelessness can often be unsafe, one of the organization's attempts is to make such a lifestyle safer; they offer an emergency shelter, food, job assistance, counseling and contraceptives.
The most profound and helpful way to get involved, regardless of whether or not you know a young person experiencing homelessness, is to volunteer. Organizations such as the Youth Shelters and Family Services are actively seeking volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering please go to: www.youthshelters.org/volunteer.htm. There are also other homeless shelters (not specifically for youth) in Santa Fe that are also seeking volunteers, such as St. Elizabeth's shelter. Please go to: www.steshelter.org/volunteer.html.