Causes of teen homelessness in the Bay Area

Matthew Friend

In San Francisco, there are an estimated 6,000 homeless residents.  Nearly a quarter of this population is under the age of 25.

More surprising is the size of the homeless youth population of San Francisco’s generally affluent suburb to the north, Marin County, which is an estimated 200-600.

Kaila Love was once a member of this seemingly invisible part of society.  Love attended Redwood for a semester before transferring and graduating from Tamiscal.  Unbeknownst to most of her classmates, Love spent most nights sleeping in her car in a parking lot on the roof of Best Buy, after working full days to support herself.

“You don’t want anybody to know that you’re struggling, especially in Marin County, and be ostracized,” Love said.

How does an area such as Marin, which is known for its wealth, and which has high school graduation rates well above the state average, accumulate such a large population of homeless youth?

According to Zara Babitzke, the answer varies from case to case.  Babitzke is the Founding Director of Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity, a nonprofit supporting homeless youth in Marin.

“Many of [the homeless youth’s] parents are not healthy emotionally or mentally.  They’re abusive  ­­­physically and otherwise.  They have severe mental health issues that bring out behaviors that are dangerous for a youth to be around,” Babitzke said.  “And the other reason is that their parents will kick them out because of their sexual orientation.”

According to the 2013 San Francisco Homeless Unique Youth Count and Survey, nearly one third of all homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.  In the general population, only an estimated ten percent of people are LGBTQ.

Nicole Garroutte said that oftentimes youth are kicked out of their homes after coming out to their parents.  Garroutte is Director of Marketing and Events at Larkin Street Youth Services, a prominent San Francisco non profit serving homeless youth

Garroute also said that youth kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation come from a wide variety of financial and racial backgrounds.  Those from wealthy, poor, minority, and other backgrounds all face the same discrimination based on sexuality.

The 2013 San Francisco homeless survey also surveyed individuals to see what they said was their primary causes of homelessness.  A common reason respondents said that they had been made homeless following an argument with the person they were living with, which resulted in them being asked to move out.

The stories of Love and “Tony” (who wished to be anonymous), two TUHSD graduates, bring this statistic to life.

Love said she had a difficult early home life — her father was incarcerated and her mother was addicted to drugs — that forced her to move in with her grandmother.  She rarely slept at her grandmother’s home due to the strenuous relationship between the two as well, and was finally asked to leave home for good at 18.

Tony lived with an aunt during his time at Drake, and said he was kicked out of her house the morning following his graduation.

Many homeless youth begin in difficult situations to begin with, some without the support and guidance of family.  According to Garroutte, a large number of homeless youth are products of the foster care system.

Garroutte credited this connection to the fact that many youth in the foster care system are unable to attain stable educations, and lack the financial support and role models to guide them.

According to the 2013 San Francisco homeless survey, only four percent of the general population has ever been in foster care, while a quarter of homeless youth in San Francisco reported having at one point been in the system.

AB 12, a piece of state legislation implemented in 2012, has increased the age youth in the foster system may receive resources from 18 to 20.  This change in the law may decrease homeless youth stemming from foster care because of an extended support process, specifically supporting the transition into work or college.

Regardless of this change, nearly half of homeless youth in San Francisco still reported becoming homeless before the age of 18, with the period between ages 14 and 18 being the most common time to enter homelessness.

These youth on the streets aren’t just in a tough phase of their life either.  The 2013 San Francisco homeless survey said that nearly half of homeless youth in San Francisco reported having been homeless for at least the past year.

This presents a further problem, that the longer one is homeless, the more likely they will remain so, according to a Marin County Health and Human Services study on homelessness.

According to love, homelessness is difficult to overcome because few people in society are willing to take a risk on these seemingly unreliable members of society.

“We are misjudged as being incapable versus not having the opportunity,” Love said.