What does “justice” look like for young people experiencing homelessness in the United States? As one of the wealthiest nations in the world, it is troubling to consider the numerous ways that we, as a society, fail youth and young adults in securing one of the most basic needs: shelter.
Youth homelessness is a pervasive problem throughout the United States, and its rate has steadily risen over the years. According to the Center for American Progress, youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) are disproportionately affected by homelessness compared to their percentage in the overall population.
Despite hundreds of millions in grants to reduce the overrepresentation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system, youth of color still appear in disproportionate numbers in many areas of the system.
Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, state Senate Bill 9. This law creates a process to periodically review the progress of individuals sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as youth, with the possibility of resentencing. It declares to Californians that their children — even those who have committed serious crimes — are better than their worst acts and, therefore, deserve a second chance at life. This is a value I know many Americans share, and it should be a common characteristic of our state laws. We demonstrated our belief in the inherent redeemability of children when we established a juvenile justice system: a system we made the error of bypassing when a now-disproven theory from the 1980s about juvenile “superpredators” caused us to start throwing away our children. But, as California and the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year in Miller v. Alabama have shown, the tide is turning.