Editors' Note: Guest blogger Justin Early grew up on the streets of Seattle, is the author of "StreetChild: An Unpaved Passage" and was featured in the documentary "STREETWISE", which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1984. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.
It's been thirty years since my alcoholic father assaulted and threw me out of our home because he suspected that I was gay. I was 10 years old. Like most children who live on the street, I was forced to earn money for food and shelter by performing minor survival crimes. At 11, I began being arrested and incarcerated.
The Department of Justice estimates the average entry age of prostitution for girls, boys and transgender youth to be 11 -13. The legal age for employment is 16.
Domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, lack of access to education and poverty are but a few causes of homelessness. The threat of homelessness is not always an equal-opportunity seeker.
For example, while African Americans make up approximately 15% of the American population, studies show that more than 40% of homeless youth are African American. Since homelessness is generally accepted to be a predictor of future incarceration, it should surprise no one that African Americans are also over-represented among incarcerated populations.
Another population disproportionately affected by homelessness is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. Studies have consistently shown that LGBT youth comprise anywhere from 25-40% of homeless youth.
Every year the National Network for Youth hosts a national conference, SYMPOSIUM, in Washington, DC. Homeless and at-risk youth serving agencies from across the country join together to share ideas, funding strategies and empowering stories to gauge and empower effective methods in this increasingly difficult climate. This year my book project, StreetChild: An Unpaved Passage will be winning the agencies "Golden Pen Media Award of Excellence". I will be there with the many organizational staff who devote their lives to save the lives of less fortunate populations of children.
Interestingly, I am one of the lives they saved.
Throughout the past year and a half I have personally met thousands of youth whose lives are being saved and changed by the non-profit soldiers and National Network for Youth members I speak of. From Youthcare in Seattle, to Sasha Bruce in DC to Covenant House in Los Angeles - these programs are sometimes the only hope that disenfranchised children will have at being conditioned into better lives.
If you haven't already, I urge you now to stand tall for these kids. Call your local governmental representatives and urge them to increase funding levels and appropriations for youth serving agencies. This is the only way we can keep kids off the streets while helping to prevent physical and sexual victimization.
Your involvement will be gratified when productive citizens who have been given a new life return the favor by giving back of what we have so thankfully received.