Friday, May 11, 2007

Nevada's Homeless Youth and Kathleen Boutin's Mission to Save Them

According to the Clark County Homeless Youth Count, on any given day nearly 400 unaccompanied minors live on the streets in Clark County, Nevada. Another study says that 1,700 kids -- mostly minorities -- are homeless:

75-percent are between the ages of 15 and 17.

25-percent were born in Las Vegas.

66-percent have parents still living in the valley.

Kathleen Boutin, homeless youth advocate, said, "Isn't it sad when life on the streets of Las Vegas is better than their home environment." Boutin is not one to sit around an complain about a sad situation. In 1999, while working for the maternal health program at Southern Nevada Health District she met a 19 year old girl with 4 children who lived in a shelter. That was when Kathleen realized someone had to act on the problem of homeless and abandoned youth in Las Vegas.

She founded the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth and within a few years she'd opened the doors at the "Safe Place" drop-in center, located across the street from UNLV at 4800 S. Maryland Parkway. The center serves as a respite center for chronic street youth and provides access to basic needs items such as food, safety and counseling.

Kathleen's organization is credited with the passing of the Right to Shelter law during the 2001 Nevada State legislature. This law allows unaccompanied minors to consent to the same services that adult homeless persons receive.

Nevada is one of twelve states that allow homeless youth to access food and shelter without parental consent if the minor has been abused or neglected.

Until researching this article, I didn't know that homeless teenagers are not eligible for the services that homeless adults receive. They are truly lost and left to their own resourcefulness. Sadly these kids are committing burgalry to eat, joining gangs for protection and a sense of belonging, and succumbing to survival sex for money and shelter. It's enough to bring a mother to tears. As a mother of five, it makes me ache to think that these kids are having sex in exchange for a blanket to cover themselves in a stairwell, or for five bucks to buy a burger. It's a shameful commentary on American society.

Homelessness among adolesents is a serious public health concern due to the lack of services available to this invisible portion of society. Most of the youth residing on the streets are sexually active and at high risk of becoming parents; many of the girls are already pregnant. Lack of prenatal care, improper nutrition and severe dehydration make these young women prime candidates for delivering premature babies and those with a birth weight of less than 5.5 pounds. This part of the population is also at a high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases that usually go undiagnosed and untreated.

Thanks to the staff and volunteers at Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, the situation is slowly changing. They provide a wide range of services to teenagers, everything from LifeSkills Classes to free haircuts. NPHY runs programs such as Project Safe-Place. Kids in danger can look for the Safe-Place signs on Terrible Herbst Gas Stations and take immediate refuge inside the store. NPHY also runs mentoring, street outreach, and housing assistance programs.

But there is still more to be done. NPHY is in the process of raising five million dollars to build the first 24-hour drop-in and teen center in Nevada. They are in need of volunteers for the already exisiting programs. If you live in the Las Vegas area, please visit to volunteer your time or learn more about this important issue that so deeply effects all of society, not just parents and kids.

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