In Hollywood, Black teenagers comprise a disproportionate percentage of street youth

by McKenzie Jackson, L.A. Independent

According to a study unveiled Wednesday (November 17, 2010) by the Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership, the number of black youth on the streets of Tinseltown is far greater than those of other races and ethnicities living in similar circumstances.

That reality is one of many chilling facts exposed in “No Way Home: Understanding The Needs and Experiences of Homeless Youth in Hollywood,” a 68-page report that aims at reducing homelessness in the area.

Susan Rabinovitz, who co-authored the in-depth needs assessment, said a significant shift occurred over last 10 to 15 years that has resulted in more African-Americans, ages 24 and under, becoming homeless in Hollywood. “We don’t really know why this change has occurred, but it is very concerning,” Rabinovitz said Tuesday, one day before she and other representatives and associates were due to reveal the contents of the study at a press conference at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.

Funded by grants from the California Endowment and California Wellness Foundation, the $300,000 report was put together to show the pathways to homelessness for youth; their utilization of and experiences with services in the area; their health status and educational and vocational needs; and the particular risk factors for youth in the delinquency and dependency systems. HHYP is a collaborative effort between eight agencies that serve displaced youth, all focused on preventing and reducing homelessness through training and capacity-building, research, policy development and direct service.

Rabinovitz, a former associate director of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, said the study provides recommendations for improving outcomes for youth that live on the street. She said “No Way Home” was organized to build awareness of the problem of youth homelessness.

“It identifies homeless youth as a target population,” Rabinovitz said. “We felt that we needed to have a better understanding of the youth we are serving. These young people want what all young people want — positive relationships, a future.”

The report provides a profile of the homeless youth in Hollywood, details their life experiences, reveals the differences between various segments of the homeless youth population, provides recommendations on how to improve the homeless youth advocacy system and explains the services needed to deal with homeless youth.

Rabinovitz began working on the study in 2007 with a series of interviews, focus groups and surveys with 389 youth that lived on the streets of Hollywood.

An initial draft of “No Way Home” was presented to the funding agencies in August 2009, and last winter a second draft was modified with the release of “Opening Door: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,” the federal government’s comprehensive plan to end homelessness in America. She said the members of HHYP — Angels/Flight Catholic Charities, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Covenant House California, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Los Angeles Youth Network My Friend’s Place, The Saban Free Clinic and The Way In/Salvation Army — decided to release the study in November because it has been designated for the first-time as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.

The plight of young African-Americans residing on the streets is detailed extensively in the report. Forty-two percent of the homeless youth interviewed for the study identified themselves as African-American, while 24 percent said they were Latino and 16 percent said they were Caucasian.

The study says that the disproportionate representation of blacks is seen in the overall homeless population of Los Angeles, where 47 percent of the homeless population is African-American. “However, this ethnic distribution is significantly different from the overall demographics of Los Angeles County, where, according to 2009 U.S. Census data, 9.3 percent of the population is African American and 48 percent is Hispanic/Latino,” the study reads.

The study also reveals that 53 percent of the homeless young people in Hollywood do not possess a high school diploma or GED, while 40 percent of the teens and young adults interviewed for the report identified their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, transgender or unsure.

“A lot of them were kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation,” Rabinovitz said.

“No Way Home” details the percentage of street-dwelling young people that are from the Los Angeles area or have origins elsewhere.

Rabinovitz said the perception that all homeless young adults and teens are from out of state, and came to Hollywood to chase dreams of stardom, is not true. “Fifty-six percent of the homeless lived in L.A. [County] before they were homeless,” she said.

According to the statistics in the report, 37 percent of the young men and women lived in either Hollywood or the city of Los Angeles before becoming homeless, 24 percent lived in another U.S. state, 18 percent lived in unincorporated Los Angeles County, 13 percent lived outside of Southern California, five percent in other Southern California areas besides Los Angeles County and two percent lived outside of the U.S.

According to the report, 14 was the average age when youth in the study became homeless due to either being removed or forced from their homes.

The report says homeless youth are largely disconnected from traditional service systems. To counter that, “No Way Home” lists several recommendations to improve the systems, including the expansion of youth-specific housing programs and development of low-barrier housing for youth, connecting homeless youth to caring adults, strengthening support for youth involved in dependency and delinquency systems and ensuring that youth have access to good health care.

Rabinovitz said five years from now, she hopes to see the end of youth homeless in Hollywood on the horizon.

“We want to use the information to transform our services and educate other agencies,” she said. “I hope to see a dedicated action plan to ending homelessness.”

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