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Kern County sees an influx in homeless youth during pandemic

Homeless (FILE)
Posted at 10:18 PM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 02:18:14-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Bakersfield City Council, and in days the Kern County Board of Supervisors, will present the proclamation of November as Homeless Youth Awareness Month, this comes during a pandemic where the numbers continue to grow, as do the risks.

People are encouraged to wear purple and post to social media to create awareness for youth experiencing homelessness.

While this population, according to the Bakersfield Kern Homeless Collaborative, only makes up about six percent, helping them find stability in a crucial time in their lives can make a world of a difference.

“Youth homelessness is real. And it’s really dangerous for youth to be homeless. They are repeatedly victimized; they have to blend in to protect themselves,” said Jayme Stuart, Kern County Network for Children/Dream Center.

As Stuart points out, we may not notice outright that youth up to age 25 are homeless, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need our help.

“Homeless youth typically don’t push shopping carts. They’re not in ambiguous areas and look like your stereotypical homeless person. So, they might be a youth in a hoodie small bag and spend a lot of time in the library. They may be someone that is very quiet and stays to themselves.”

During the pandemic alone, Stuart said around 40 youths have been entering the system in Kern County a month.

According to the Bakersfield Kern Regional Homelessness Collaborative, the risks of falling into homelessness are higher for youth in the LGBTQ+ community or from an African American background, 120 percent and 83 percent higher, respectively.

Stuart adds that the issue needs to be handled community-wide, something they’re highlighting during November, which Bakersfield City Council and the Kern County Board of Supervisors have proclaimed ‘Youth Homelessness Awareness Month’.

“Bringing donations here to the dream center, we can give them to homeless youth, they can take them to local shelters, there are a number of ways that community members can help address youth homelessness. Landlords can be willing to rent to youth who are homeless that have housing vouchers,” Stuart said.

Most importantly, if you suspect someone is experiencing homelessness, there are ways you can talk to them starting off with taking them to lunch.

This can be especially crucial in this age group, since according to BKRHC, 75 percent of homeless or runaway unaccompanied youth have dropped out or will drop out of school.

“Don’t use the word homeless. That’s a stigma, and homeless youth can be very embarrassed of that. Instead ask them, ‘Hey what are your plans to stay the night or for the rest of the day?’ Don’t threaten to call child protective services because they’re afraid already. Say, ‘Are you willing to call for help with me?’ Invite them to talk to a peer or have a peer talk with them about their situation. Give them some leeway. Understand it may take some time for them to warm up to you.”

Stuart encourages youth experiencing homelessness to contact the dream center at 211, where they have many resources or can connect them to resources to help them get back on their feet.