- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

These are statistics that aren’t as familiar to Americans as some other data, and a national campaign called Code Blue: Reviving a Generation says it is important for Americans to make sure lawmakers and policymakers don’t forget them.

Code Blue says on its Web site:

• An estimated 2.8 million youths run away from home every year, according to a 1995 study.

• Between 16,000 and 27,600 runaway and homeless youths are HIV positive, according to a 2004 study.

• Data from 2008 show that every day, 13 teenagers die on the streets from abuse, drugs or suicide.

Code Blue is the brainchild of a young actor, Jermaine Crawford, who began acting at age 3 and has appeared in productions at the Shakespeare and Olney theaters. While researching his role as a homeless youth in the HBO series “The Wire,” Jermaine discovered that teen and adult homelessness have disturbingly common factors: lack of education, lack of affordable housing, poverty, unemployment, mental illness and substance abuse.

Jermaine, 17, said he wants to shed light on teen homelessness, so he established Code Blue, which among other projects is producing a TV documentary, “Teenage and Homeless in America: Change Is Gonna Come.”

He also is joining forces with other youth-advocacy groups. He was in Washington recently to speak with members of the D.C. Council and other advocates to help raise awareness and develop solutions.

Jermaine’s mother cited a lack of government funding as a big problem.

“You dont hear about teenage homelessness. We never see a commercial or a walk for teenage homelessness. And I think its due to lack of government funding,” said Wanda Crawford, who lives in Prince George’s County.

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown, who also attended the forum, sponsored by the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates, said that the Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act of 2009, which he introduced, would aid the Department of Human Services regarding funding to combat youth homelessness.

Other panelists included Deborah Shore, executive director and founder of Sasha Bruce Youthwork; council member Tommy Wells; and Alexis Browne, youth leadership specialist for the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League.

“My hope is that we create a growing awareness by documenting the need of those homeless children in the community. We have progressive youth homelessness models around the country that are really improving young people’s lives, Last year 250 homeless youth completed GEDs and over 50 percent as a result of the Urban Peak program,” Ms. Shore said.

Urban Peak, a 40-bed facility, is the only licensed youth shelter in the Denver metro area. It primarily serves young adults.

The panelists discussed the growing problem of homeless youths who are uncounted and “invisible” for a number of reasons, including a desire to be independent and not get handouts and a lack of knowledge of available resources.

“The numbers of homeless women are up, which creates more homeless children. I visited shelters these past few months and sat with two women, each with five children, living in a closed hospital. We have to provide better shelter and lifestyle for these youth,” Mr. Wells said.

“We need more people upset and outraged about the issue of youth homelessness. I don’t see a political leader really willing to champion this cause,” said Eshauna Smith, executive director of the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates.

While solving the issue of youth homelessness may seem daunting, the alliance works to end it by collecting comprehensive data, collaborating with service providers, lobbying the D.C. government and securing resources for youth beds and services.

Teen homeless is a profound and complex problem, Jermaine said, and to tackle and overcome it means the next generation must step up to the challenge.

“The documentary chronicles the lives of teens across the country,” Jermaine said. “East Coast homelessness is different from West Coast because of weather climate. I want to help kids empower themselves so that eventually they can empower others.”

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