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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Tucson needs to help homeless teens

    Vanessa Valenzuelacolumnist
    Vanessa Valenzuela

    As Tucson attempts to give downtown a facelift with construction and building restoration projects, a problem that has been successfully suppressed in our community is rising to the surface: homelessness. It is estimated that there are between 3,000 and 7,000 homeless living in Tucson, though that figure is almost certainly too low.

    Why, if homelessness is such a problem here, isn’t it more visible? Because our city has made it that way.

    A 1999 report from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty ranks Tucson streets among the “”meanest”” in the nation, after the passage of several laws that restrict and criminalize homeless people’s use of public areas. They include a 30-minute limit on sitting at bus stops, the shutdown of a homeless camp near Sentinel Peak and an attempt to privatize sidewalks so business owners can legally “”shoo”” the homeless off “”their”” property.

    The community and the city need to rally behind organizations that are acually attacking the issue instead of simply sweeping our homeless youth under the rug.

    The city maintained its mean-street reputation on May 1, 2001, when the Tucson City Council’s ban on newspaper hawkers, flower vendors and panhandlers on city medians went into effect. This measure was successful in banning the working poor from attempting to generate a means of survival at our busy intersections.

    The city called it a “”safety concern”” and contended it was simply following suit with what other Arizona communities were doing. Those lobbying for the homeless called it a faÇõade for making the eyesore of the homeless of the city less visible.

    At the same time, bills and legislation were being created that addressed an issue slipping through the cracks in Arizona and Tucson’s assessment of homelessness: youth homelessness.

    The Children’s Action Alliance estimates some 5,000 runaway or homeless kids pass through Arizona each year. In 1999, a senate bill established a Youth Intervention Program and required that the Department of Economic Security’s Homeless Coordination Office include information about homeless youth in its annual homelessness report.

    Obviously, if youth homelessness was not even being reported, it was not getting near enough attention from our city.

    The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 finally lit a fire under the city of Tucson to address the issue by its inclusion of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act.

    As a result, we are finally seeing improvements in this area, as the estimated 2,000

    homeless youth in Pima County schools are receiving help from homeless student liaisons in schools who help them get registered, figure out transportation and enroll in meal plans. Though this is positive change, it is only helping the homeless youth who attend our schools.

    Tucson still has an acute shortage of services for homeless teens, with some 500 teens living on the street and only 50 beds specifically earmarked for them. As the city continues to fail these youth, the community has stepped up to the plate to take on the challenge of helping them.

    This semester, the Teen Empowerment and Advocacy Movement of Tucson – a nonprofit organization founded and run by local high school students – successfully organized an Ashlee Simpson charity concert that raised $35,000 to battle youth homelessness in Pima County.

    Another community group, Youth On Their Own, is doing the dirty work of helping youth battle the obstacles of homelessness on a day-to-day basis by attempting to support the high school graduation of homeless young people by providing financial assistance, basic human needs and guidance.

    On our own campus, the student group Stand Up for Kids is putting forth a valiant effort to not only address the needs of homeless youth in our city but also to proactively educate students in our schools about homelessness and encourage them to take other measures before simply running away from home.

    Diana Korn, an officer in the group, has revitalized the program this year, and she said the need for it is apparent when the group works on the streets of Tucson.

    “”This has become such a big problem that people seem to feel it can’t be conquered,”” she said. “”I think there is hope if we just address this from both sides of the issue: prevention and helping those who are already out on their own.””

    The community and the city need to rally behind organizations that are actually attacking this issue instead of simply sweeping our homeless youth under the rug. The city must also step up and address the problem of youth homelessness, instead of counting on these small organizations to shoulder the majority of the work.

    Vanessa Valenzuela is a sophomore majoring in economics and international studies. She can be reached at

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