After we talked about homelessness in Germany in general in the last article, this time we want to take a closer look at homelessness among young people. Most of us are teenagers or young adults, which is why we want to give you a picture of how these circumstances occur at an early age and what consequences they have.
Minors and Young Adults among the Homeless
Young-age homelessness is divided into two age groups, minors, known as street children, and young adults. Street children are defined as all children and teenagers who are under 18 and are either homeless, have run away from home, or have no family or relatives and thus must provide for themselves. Young adults fall under the same definition, but are between the ages of 18 and 27. However, no distinction is made between the age groups in the following, as the causes and consequences of both groups are relatively similar.
As with general homelessness, there are no official statistics for youth homeless. One organization that supports street children and young homeless people is Off Road Kids, which we will tell you about in a separate post. According to Off Road Kids, about 2500 children and young people end up on the streets every year. While most of them find their way back, about 300 children and young people do not make it and remain homeless.
According to a study by the German Youth Institute, around 7,000 children and young people live on the streets, but if you include the secondary homeless (people without a home), the figure is as high as 37,000.
You can read about the difference between the terms "homeless" and "secondary homeless" in our last article.
How can children and young people become homeless?
Every one of us has had trouble at home at some point or another and the thought of running away from home may have crossed our minds, but most of us have not really taken this thought seriously. However, there are children and adolescents who have decided to take this drastic step and have left the parental home or youth welfare institutions. Possible triggers often include neglect, abuse and maltreatment. Most children and adolescents find their way back home, but there are also those who do not make it and are thus left to look after themselves.
Children and adolescents do not suddenly decide to run away, but slowly approach the possibility, which seems to them at the time a better option to school and family. For example, they are still sleeping at home but spend their time in the streets or with certain communities during the day, and over time they stay away from home more and more often until they never return.
Adolescents do not always make this decision themselves but are kicked out the door by their parents after reaching the age of adulthood. A common reason that parents no longer have access to the young people due to a drug or alcohol addiction.
How do street children and young homeless people live?
As already mentioned, street children and young homeless people are on their own. To ensure their survival, many rely on begging, petty theft or even prostitution.
Out of loneliness, many young people belong to a (street) community in order to satisfy their need for belonging and recognition. This often exposes them to very strong peer pressure, which quickly leads them to drug and alcohol use. According to a study on the health behavior of homeless young people,many resort to alcohol and cannabis on a regular basis and in high doses. The longer someone lives on the streets, the more likely they are to turn to harder drugs.
Others, however, seek anonymity and therefore regularly change the cities in which they live. According to Off Road Kids, the preferred cities include Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, as well as larger cities in the Ruhr region.
On the streets, street children and young homeless people experience many traumatic experiences that haunt them throughout their lives. This is how 21-year-old Jones described his experiences on the streets to reporters:
"In the three and a half years I've seen things that you're not supposed to see... Like people getting stabbed, shot, beaten up so they died, or someone overdosing on heroin and dying next to me. But you can't get those images out of your head, you're marked after that."
These frightening experiences are not only experienced by street children, but also by all other homeless people.
The consequences of homelessness for young people are not very different from those of adults, but the experiences of adolescence have a much greater impact. In addition, young people and especially children have a harder time finding their way on the streets due to their lack of life experience and independence.
We have already described the general consequences of homelessness in more detail in our introductory article and you can read them again here.
What is being done to help them?
There are several projects and organizations that have set themselves the goal of getting street children off the streets or at least supporting them. One of them is the previously mentioned Off Road Kids Stiftung, which we will address in the next blog post.
In most major German cities, there are housing assistance and emergency sleeping facilities that serve as a shelter for homeless children and young people. There are also special facilities for girls and young women. The two most frequently used services are counseling centers and survival assistance. In particular, survival services are used by homeless youth to meet basic needs such as food and sleep. Counseling centers, on the other hand, are used more often by homeless youth, in which social workers advise them on various issues, such as finances, drug use, and legal issues. They also work closely with the responsible youth welfare offices and try to support the young people as much as possible.