"Study: half of local homeless are childrenAgencies cite abuse, bad relationships, early pregnancy."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:44 PM
"Forty-six of Kitsap's county's homeless residents live on Bainbridge and nearly half are children, according to the 2001 homeless census conducted in January at area food banks.I wasn't surprised at the total number, Joanne Tews, executive director of Helpline House, said. But I was shocked that 19 of the 46 were under the age of 22.Five of the 19 are homeless with their family, leaving 14 on their own.Tews believes that the figures may well be an undercount of Bainbridge's population of homeless youth, noting that some young people avoid care providers, fearful of being reunited with family or turned over to Child Protective Services.Bainbridge Youth Services director Connie Mueller notes that many of these young people don't consider themselves homeless if they are staying with friends. Pollsters didn't either until recently, according to Mueller, but census-takers now acknowledge that a young person need only fall through the safety-net of friends to be on the street.Tews worked in tandem with Mueller to count homeless youth. BYS submitted statistics from homeless young people in counseling, while preserving clients' anonymity.According to the data, most Bainbridge youth are homeless from two weeks to three months. There are slightly more women than men, and racial representation reflects Bainbridge demographics. Substance abuse and domestic violence play a role in nearly half of youth homelessness, while health and mental health are issues for 21 percent.Mueller has seen no increase in the percentage of youth using drugs, but while marijuana and alcohol are perennial favorites, other drugs of choice have shifted, with crank and ecstasy currently on the rise.Incidence of pregnancy is a factor in leaving home, higher than I have seen in recent years, Merrylee Lord said, a BYS mental health counselor. Kids leave - or are asked to leave for reasons that have to do with conflict in the home. Mueller notes that some parents can not cope with teens who do drugs or engage in other risky behaviors. Mueller characterizes Bainbridge's homeless young people as an economic cross-section from low-income to upper-middle-class. BYS tries to keep homeless young people in school, but places greatest emphasis on their safety. We work with the school counselor, we work with the family, Mueller said. We're an advocate for the kid, emotionally. Mueller believes that increasing academic and social stress play a role in youth leaving home.We see a lot of depression in kids, Mueller said. Life's harder now for them. They have to know and do more. Lord says upper-middle-class kids account for the majority of her depressed and suicidal clients.It's a relationship problem, Lord said. It's better to come home to a parent than to read an E-mail. But that's the way it is, these days. BYS works hard at reconciling youth with family, Mueller says. Other strategies include placement in foster care or in unofficial, but safe, temporary housing. Kids are very resourceful, Mueller said. They tend to find someone to take them in. They don't want to be on the street.Analysis of the homeless count, which is now under way, will provide statistical evidence of need and reliable data for funding requests. "