LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — An estimated 30,000 teens are on the street each night, according to the National Coalition to End Homelessness.
Jennifer McMahon, director of grants at Child and Family Charities in Lansing, says Ingham County is seeing an increase in homeless youth.
“We had over 300 youth that we have served in the last year and those are youth ranging in age 12 to 24,” she says of the agency.
She’s been working with youth without stable housing for 16 years. She says the county is seeing an “alarming” number of youth in need of housing. A 1997 study found youth without stable housing were at a higher risk of exposure to violence – both as victims and perpetrators.
In addition, youth without stable housing are more likely to experience sex and labor trafficking. While sex acts for food, housing, or money were referred to as “survival sex,” it is now considered sex trafficking for persons under the age of 18.
“Again they’re very, very vulnerable for being preyed upon by human traffickers,” says McMahon. “So, it’s so critical that we get them off the street and into some place safe and as quickly as possible and then we rebuild from there on something more permanent or sustaining.”
But getting youth off the street is fraught with complications. In Michigan, youth shelters have to contact a teen’s family within 24 hours. If a family member can’t be reached in 24 hours, state law requires the shelter to contact Child Protective Services.
But legislation in the Michigan Legislature could change those deadlines. It would give shelters 72 hours to contact family.
McMahon says the move is not about reducing parental involvement or consent, nor is it about harboring runaways.
“We could do a lot for them but we are bound by that 24-hour rule right now,” she tells 6 News. “Where it could be a parent that is out of town. It could be a parent who doesn’t have, you know, regular access to be able to accept phone calls within a certain period of time.”
She says if the legislation passes, it will give shelters in Michigan more time to connect youth with housing, working to get them off the streets and up on their feet.
“So they can be contributing members of our community and not feel so helpless and vulnerable like they did at the beginning of their housing crisis,” McMahon says.
The bill will face a debate in the Senate Committee on Housing and Human Service on Tuesday.