There has been no shortage of coverage of homeless issues lately – squabbles about where to locate a shelter, discussions about the behavior of some of the homeless – but there is one segment of the population that is going unnoticed, says homeless advocate Lisa Ray.
She calls them “unaccompanied minors” – in the broader sense, the word is a synonym for runaways. They are the children who are out of their homes and don’t have an adult to look after them.
These are kids who have left their homes for a variety of reasons – often it’s verbal or physical abuse, sometimes it is just unbearable family dysfunction, says Ray, who is with the Children’s Resource Network of the Central Coast.
They “couch-surf” with the families of their friends for a while, then sometimes go out on the street, and too often fall prey to undesirable people who, as Ray puts it, “are up to no good (and) will bring them into their bubble."
Exhibit A could be Dystiny Myers, a runway girl in Nipomo who left her home and ended up with people who abused, prostituted, and finally killed her. The trial of her murderers ended early this month.
Hers is the most extreme example. Other youngsters, barely more than children, are also out there trying to cope as best they know how,
“It breaks my heart,” Ray says. Even if they are in the teen years, “they’re still children. “I want to solve this problem.”
She is aware of and working with others who are trying to help homeless youngsters. Local school districts, the county office of education and the Department of Social Services, among others, have programs in place.
They have quantified the problem, identifying hundreds of homeless youngsters in K-12, and set up programs to help.
But Ray wants to step it up a bit. For openers, she would like to have posters in schools telling children a number they can call or a place they can go when they are teetering on making the decision of whether to leave home.
Children, for obvious reason, don’t want to let it be known that they are homeless, and may not confide in officialdom. “They don’t want to talk about it,” Ray says. A place where they can go would give them an out.
Her most ambitious plan is one that would cost money and take substantial community involvement. She wants a “runaway” shelter - some place to keep the child safe until he or she can find a more permanent solution.
That, she hopes, will come. At the moment she is in a mode where she is trying to make the general public aware that there is a problem and endeavoring to describe it so they will help.
To reach Ray, go to the Children’s Resource Network of the Central Coast at http://www.childrensresourcenetwork.org.
To see how county schools are approaching the problem or to see a breakdown of homeless children by grade level go to http://fys.slocoe.org.
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