By Dezerae Rawlings, PDA Operations Associate
Each month, we have the opportunity to remember historical moments, celebrate culture, and advocate for different causes we are passionate about. November is a special month to many people for different reasons, may it be Veterans Day, Native American Heritage, or Thanksgiving. November is special to me because it is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.
Some of you may already know, but I was homeless from 13 to 18 and again at 20. Most adults saw me as a troubled teen who didn’t want to follow the rules, implying I had chosen my circumstances. The reality is I was failed by people and systems like Child Protective Services, police, Kitsap County Juvenile Detention, public schools, medical offices, and the Department of Social and Health Services, which were all aware of the situation and active in my life in those five years. I went from not knowing what drugs were to being addicted within a year of being homeless.
· There are 4.2 million homeless youth in America. Within the first 48 hours, 22% are approached by someone soliciting drugs, and one in three are lured into prostitution, often trading sex for food or a place to sleep.
· Compared to housed youth, homeless youth are 75% more likely to self-medicate and abuse substances as a way to deal with trauma.
· Every day, 13 at-risk youth will die due to assault, illness, or suicide trying to survive on the streets.
· Up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+
There is no way we can solve this overnight, but you can make a difference by getting involved. I volunteer with SUFK because I hold the organization dear to my heart for the impact they made during my time of struggle. There are Kitsap County and King County chapters if you choose to give your time. You can also visit their national website below to explore other ways to make your own impact. There are many other nonprofits you can get involved with, including Coffee Oasis, Friends of Youth, Harbor Hope Center, and YouthCare.
As a mother of four, I balance kids, school, and the hard work we do at PDA. I find myself sometimes getting stuck in a routine as if I have a checklist constantly being marked off throughout the day. Although impactful, the work we do becomes that way from time to time, too. Volunteering and advocacy help keep me close to our mission at PDA.
November is a special time for me to remember what fuels my passion for the work we do. It is also a time of year when I choose to evaluate my capacity to give back outside of work. That capacity looks different for all of us – we lead individual lives that have individual needs. Some of us may only have the space to raise awareness with a simple social media post calling others to action. Some of us are lucky enough to have spare time or spare funds. I speak from experience when I say: Find and speak up for the things you are passionate about, whatever they may be.
My goal in writing this is to bring awareness to National Youth Awareness Month, the brutal reality, and how you can get involved if you choose to. If you want to read more, I have listed a few links below, including an updated video and a project I did with SUFK National in July 2023. Thank you all for all the tremendous work you do within our community.