On Dec. 25, 1983, The Times ran an article describing the situation with runaway and homeless youths in Los Angeles County. To summarize the situation and need for services in Los Angeles, let me again state that somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 runaway youths are estimated to be on the streets of Los Angeles County on any given day. Somewhere between 2,500 and 5,000 of these youths are homeless “street kids” with 43% of these (1,075 to 2,150) California residents from outside of Los Angeles County.
During the three years of the existence of the High Risk Youth Project at Childrens Hospital, we have encountered numerous homeless youths who reside on the streets of the Hollywood-Wilshire district of Los Angeles. The problems of these young people include severe depression, often accompanied by suicidal ideation, extreme lack of self-worth and hope.
Perhaps what is most striking about the history of these young people is that the vast majority are not runaways, but rather have been thrown out of their homes by parents who, in all too many cases, have severely abused these young people, either sexually, physically or emotionally, during their developmental years.
Even with such destructive histories, many of these young people could become contributing and productive citizens of our society, but the current situation with regard to services for them leaves them without any structured mechanism to move off the streets and back into the mainstream of society.
Assembly Bill 1596, the Homeless Youth Act, authored by Assemblyman Art Agnos (D-San Francisco), is currently on Gov. George Deukmejian’s desk. It provides funds to develop two pilot projects, one in Los Angeles County and one in San Francisco, in order to provide these needed services. The bill received strong bipartisan support with a 54-12 vote in the Assembly and a 30-5 vote in the Senate, as it fills in a major existing gap in services for runaway/homeless youths who have left their county of origin.
As state residents, without appropriate parental care, these children are clearly a state responsibility, and through AB 1596 this responsibility can be met in a cost-efficient manner. Recognizing this fact, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, the Department of Childrens Services, the Juvenile Court, and numerous other agencies are officially on record as supporting AB 1596. The governor should sign it into law as soon as possible.
GARY L. YATES