U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal hosted a roundtable discussion Monday on the issue of youth homelessness in Connecticut.
Two dozen child and homeless advocates gave Blumenthal an overview of the problems facing young people who have either run away, or have been kicked out of their homes, and are living on the streets.
"They are much more likely to engage in high risk behavior," said Shawn Lang, director of Public Policy for Aids Connecticut, "whether it's drug use, trading drugs for a place to stay, trading drugs for sex, or trading sex for a place to stay."
A 2013 study commissioned by The Reaching Home Campaign backs up those claims. Based on interviews of 98 young people in Connecticut who are either homeless and housing-insecure, the study showed that 89 percent were sexually active, 25 percent reported considering suicide, and 50 percent had been arrested at least once in their lives.
Shari Shapiro, executive director of Kids in Crisis, alerted Blumenthal to the problem of "couch surfers," homeless teens who are allowed to stay temporarily at a friend or family's home. "It's an old term," she said. "Nothing's changed. Many of these kids are getting to school, and on the outside, they look like everything is fine, but they are really an invisible population."
Services for homeless youth are hard to come by. According to the Partnership for Strong Communities, there are only four agencies in Connecticut that provide any level of aid for homeless juveniles. There are no provider services for homeless youth in Hartford.
Part of the problem is that no one knows how many teens are homeless in Connecticut. That will change in January, when several groups will collaborate for Youth Count, a comprehensive tally of homeless youths in the state.
Advocates say knowing who these homeless kids are, how they ended up homeless, and where they are living is the first step to getting them the services they need to get them off the streets.