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Majority of Iowa homeless are under age 21

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

A study shows that youngsters make up 62 percent of Iowa's homeless population, compared to national estimates that range from 20 percent to 40 percent.

An estimated 22,639 people 21 years old or younger were homeless at some time during the 2001-2002 school year, according to the January 2003 study by Iowa's Interagency Task Force on Homelessness. It was done for the state Department of Education.

"It's a black hole they get sucked into," said Jim McWeeny, resources coordinator for Iowa Homeless Youth Centers. "That hole is deep, it's dark, and it's a level of nothingness most people can't understand."

High rates of domestic violence in the state is a factor that contributes to the number of homeless youth, said Ray Morley, a consultant for the education agency. "That's a major reason we have so many children identified in our count," Morley said. Other factors include income, jobs and issues such as domestic abuse, alcoholism and drug use, associated with homeless youth.

"These kids are really high-risk young people," said Les Whitbeck, a professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who leads an ongoing study of homeless youths in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas.

"They're experiencing a lack of mental health and emotional problems. They're subject to abuse at home and even more when they hit the street," Whitbeck said.



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