Our Voice: Homeless children reflect problems we can solve

Mid-Columbia school districts are reporting that homelessness among kids is up 15 percent.

Mark Lee, a youth advocate and board member at Safe Harbor Support Center, suspects that the bigger number doesn't reflect more homeless youth, just better reporting.

In that way, it's good news.

True, that even a small number of homeless youth is too many. But it's impossible to shoot at a hidden target. Knowing that we have a problem is the first step to solving it.

There are various reasons why a kid might be homeless. In some cases, they get kicked out of the family home. In other situations, they leave on their own -- often because home is not a safe place for them.

The number for homeless youths also includes families who are in transition. If a family is staying with friends or relatives during a transitional period, the children are classified as homeless.

The numbers do not, however, include kids who are not enrolled in school.

At best, the numbers are squishy.

Two problems exist for any community that wants to care for its youth: Providing adequate services and getting people to make the most of those services.

We are fortunate to have lots of services for homeless teens, if we can just convince kids to avail themselves these resources.

The Benton Franklin Community Action Connections website, bfcac.org, posts a list of services for youths from My Friend's Place, a homeless shelter for teens, to Educational Service District 123, which has strategies in place for kids who are homeless or living in transition, plus many more.

As a community, we have done a pretty good job of providing services. This doesn't mean we can slack off or rest on our laurels. It's a persistent problem that needs constant attention.

Until we have a safe place for everyone, we need to continue to financially support the programs that help children and youth in crisis.

An even better outcome, however, would be to strengthen and support the family as a whole. Give parents the skills to financially, socially and emotionally provide for their children. This can be through counseling, training or dispute resolution.

For example, many times a kid is kicked out of the family home for his or her sexuality. What a horrible response. In that situation you take a youth who is feeling isolated and parents who are in shock, throw in some unnecessary name calling and blame placing and make the situation worse for both parties.

Wouldn't a better outcome be to provide some support and understanding to both sides of the equation and try to keep the family intact?

Having a roof over your head and some food in your belly is important. Being in school and bettering your situation is a great help as well. Knowing that you belong to a greater society -- family and community -- is vital for all of us.

We have to do better by our youth.