Reporter’s Notebook: Homeless Youth Risks, Pope Speaks Out

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Gary Gately2-verticalBeing a homeless youth on U.S. city streets can be exceedingly dangerous.

A new study says more than 60 percent of young people ages 14 to 21 surveyed in 11 cities reported they had been assaulted.

The federally funded study, led by sociology professor Les Whitbeck at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, found 40.8 percent of respondents had been robbed, 40.5 percent had been threatened, 32.3 percent had been beaten up and 14.5 percent had been sexually assaulted or raped.

And for each additional month spent homeless, the likelihood of being assaulted increased by 3 percent, the study said.

Homelessness disproportionately affected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth as well as racial minorities.

The research results were announced last week in Washington, D.C., at an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1974 Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which provides federal funding to programs for homeless youth.

"No young person deserves to experience homelessness, especially because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, which is why we must stand with them to help them live the happy and healthy lives they do deserve," singer Cyndi Lauper said in a press release before the event.

Lauper, who spoke at the event, co-founded the True Colors Fund, which strives to raise awareness about and bring an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth homelessness.

In the study, the most cited reason among young people for becoming homeless the first time was being asked to leave by a parent or caregiver (51.2 percent); followed by being unable to find a job; being physically abused or beaten; and problems in the home because of a caregiver’s drug or alcohol abuse.

Those surveyed reported they had been homeless for an average of nearly two years and first became homeless at an average age of 15.

While homeless, almost 80 percent said they had slept in an emergency shelter or transitional living program. More than half said they had slept or rested outdoors on a street, in a park or on a bench.

Slightly less than half had slept or rested in a hotel or motel, about 40 percent had slept or rested in a car and about a third slept or rested in a bus station, airport or subway station or train station.

Study results were based on responses between March and September 2013 from 656 street youths interviewed in Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis, Minn.; New York; Omaha, Neb.; Port St. Lucie, Fla.; San Diego; Seattle and Tucson, Ariz.


Pope Francis Calls for Ending Life Sentences, Solitary, Death Penalty

Pope Francis has spoken out once again on criminal justice issues, denouncing the death penalty, life prison sentences and solitary confinement.

The head of the Catholic Church made the comments at the Vatican in a speech to representatives of the International Association of Penal Law, Catholic News Service reported.

“All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty,” the pope said.

“And this, I connect with life imprisonment: Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty."

In the Oct. 23 speech, the pontiff also called solitary confinement “torture.”

“Its main feature is none other than the isolation,” Pope Francis said. “As demonstrated by studies carried out by different human rights bodies, the lack of sensory stimuli, the complete lack of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings causes physical and emotional suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression and weight loss and significantly increases the chances of suicide.”

The pope said solitary and other forms of “physical and mental torture” had been used to achieve confessions in the name of national security and also as “a genuine surplus of pain that is added to the suffering of detention. In this way, torture takes place not only in clandestine detention centers or in modern concentration camps, but also in prisons, juvenile institutions, psychiatric hospitals, police stations and other institutions of detention and punishment.”

Pope Francis noted the catechism of the Catholic Church “does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor."

But, he said, “Cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

The pope also said criminal penalties should not apply to children and should be waived or limited for the elderly.

Reader comments, questions and tips are encouraged. Write to Gary Gately at ggately@csjournalism.org.

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