The connection between youth homelessness and the juvenile system is the subject of a new study by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and its partners. The report makes recommendations for policymakers, law enforcement and youth advocates and provides broad insights into a problem that has plagued juveniles for decades, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. As an example, police might grab a homeless teen sleeping on a park bench at 3 a.m. Vagrancy, trespassing or a host of minor offenses can send the youth tumbling into the juvenile justice system. “Each year, nearly 380,000 minors experience ‘unaccompanied’ homelessness — meaning they are homeless and without a parent or guardian — for a period of longer than one week,” the report said. “These young people, much like their adult counterparts, are often cited, arrested, charged, and/or incarcerated instead of being provided with the supports they need. One million youth are also involved with law enforcement or the juvenile justice system each year, an experience that can increase their likelihood of becoming homeless.”
The study, “Addressing the Intersections of Juvenile Justice Involvement and Youth Homelessness: Principles for Change,” points to a form of double punishment many youth experience. They are abused, neglected or mistreated at home. The stress of living in such conditions or already being on the street most of the time create tensions and fear. The teen lashes out at a classmate, a fight ensues and assault charges funnel the youth into the juvenile justice system. Homeless boys and girls often trade sex for shelter, or money to get shelter, and are charged with prostitution. The study examined how innocuous situations lead to the justice system: A teen with a troubled home life stays with a friend’s family, but it’s a long way from his local school. Soon, truancy charges are filed, and another trip to the court system begins. The coalition lists 10 principles, recommendations and guidelines for those dealing with homeless youth who wind up in the justice system.