The Devastating Effects of COVID-19 for At-Risk Youth

The everyday challenges of emancipated foster youth are difficult enough under normal conditions, but the current COVID-19 crisis has complicated and escalated the stakes for these vulnerable, at-risk youth. Caught between worlds – that of their former foster home and the transition to adulthood – these young men and women may feel lost, wondering where to turn for help.

HOMELESSNESS Foster youth have a high risk of homelessness. Emancipated youth may no longer have access to shelter, and don’t know where to start. As eviction moratoriums expire and jobless rates skyrocket, many will be facing evictions and being turned away from overcrowded shelters, forcing some to live out of their cars, and others out onto the street. For at-risk youth who are already unemployed or underemployed and no one to turn to for help, homelessness and lack of food are a constant threat, and with the current crisis an ominous threat fueled by anxiety and hopelessness. For those youth who are enrolled in college, the shutdown of college campuses will likely push them out of student dorms with no place to go.

UNEMPLOYMENT COVID-19 is not only a public health crisis, but an economic crisis that disproportionately affects youth. As emancipated foster youth enter the job market with limited skills and education, many end up in the service industry. With calls for social distancing, jobs that depend on customer interactions or large gatherings of people are all but disappearing. With restaurants forced to close or only offer take-out options, many of these workers are losing their jobs: jobs that will not return as many small businesses close their doors for good. Other service industries, including hotels, childcare services, retail trade and transportation services, are at a higher risk of losing their jobs. Young people in particular will be disproportionately affected by virus-related layoffs. Nearly half of employed youth are employed in service-sector establishments, making up 24% of employment in higher-risk industries overall. For those who have been able to receive enhanced unemployment monies, those resources are quickly evaporating.

FOOD SHORTAGES Due to the high joblessness rate, more people are being forced to join the food pantry lines, which are facing severe shortages in high-infection areas. Add to that farmers who are having to destroy crops and livestock because restaurant purchases are minimal to nonexistent, and these suppliers are not able to modify their distribution processes to meet the needs of individuals. So while hunger and starvation becomes more urgent and widespread, we are destroying the very food they need.

INCARCERATION With little to no resources to survive, emancipated youth are even more inclined to move to a life of crime, resulting in incarceration and a higher mortality rate with jails representing some of the highest virus infection rates in the U.S. Recidivism is on the rise, and the stakes are higher than ever.

MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES American from all backgrounds and economic resources are facing the mental health issues that result from isolation and lack of freedom to safely go about their daily business. Youth are no longer in school, cutting them off from the support of teachers and peers, and often the only food available to them on a daily basis. Depression and anxiety rule the day as the future remains unknown and unpredictable. For those with a genetic disposition for mental illness, symptoms of a latent mental illness may begin to emerge.

The future seems bleak, but we believe in the unfailing strength and hope of the human spirit. How can you help?

  • Now, more than ever, we need your donations of food, clothing, personal items, educational materials, and more so that we can create care packages for homeless and needy youth.

  • For students struggling with school, online learning seems an insurmountable task. Volunteer to remote tutor.

  • Help restore hope for the future, and let these young men and women know that they are not alone and you care by providing remote mentoring or social distanced services that they need. Write a letter of support or send a note with a gift of food or clothing.

  • Volunteer to collect donations and help us assemble care packages for the those left destitute by the economic crisis.

  • Donate money or goods and services for those in need.

  • Take in a young person who needs room and board. Lend them your love and support and let them know that you care.

Even the smallest donation or gesture of support can make a difference in the life of an at-risk youth, giving them hope for the future.

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