It is nearly impossible to miss the homeless problem in Los Angeles. Over 48,000 people are either living on the streets or in shelters, and tents line the sidewalks in certain areas. But what many people may not realize is that nearly 4,000 of the homeless population are under the age of 18, and many of them are living on their own.
“Our homeless youth are invisible in plain sight,” said Janet Denise Kelly, executive director of Sanctuary of Hope. “Most kids do not want to identify with being homeless. It’s a really huge stigma. They’re living in tents, and they’re living in cars.”
Sanctuary of Hope, which is located in West Adams, assists teenagers and young adults ages 16-25 who are in the foster care system, homeless, or are at risk of being homeless.
“The majority of the youth that come through our doors are homeless,” Kelly said. “They either fled abuse or neglect or they aged out of the foster care system.”
The life of a homeless youth is dire, as they have to use any means necessary to find housing and to ensure that their basic needs are met. Prostitution is an issue with a lot of the girls who are simply trying to survive, as pimps gain control of their lives. For the boys, gang life is one way for them to find a place to live and eat.
“With our young boys, if they’re homeless, these gang members are waiting for an opportunity to say, ‘You ain’t got a family, I’ll be your family, I can put a roof over your head, I’ll take care of you,’” Kelly said.