by Alexandra Pechman
Jan 25, 2010
WASHINGTON– In her plenary address Monday at the National Network for Youth’s 2010 Symposium, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius struck a connection between the recent crisis in Haiti and the plight of the many homeless or once-homeless youth in attendance.
“The scale of that crisis may be foreign, but the specifics aren’t,” Sebelius said.
David Buck, 20, knew those specifics well; he has had to find shelter under a Seattle bridge before. His right arm bears a tattoo that perhaps reveals what permanence means to him: a blood-blue ship’s steering wheel, the size of a fist.
“One of my biggest hopes is that those who have spent time on the streets have the opportunity to speak,” Buck said. With Wednesday’s State of the Union address approaching, and health care at the focus the public consciousness, he hopes President Barack Obama will address youth health and health care issues, in which homelessness plays a large role.
The symposium this week will serve to address ways to fight youth and teenage homelessness in the United States, where 1.6 million young people aged 12 to 17 lived on the street in 2009. Sebelius skirted the issue of the current state of health care reform, instead detailing ways that the current system can be best maximized to these young peoples’ advantage.
She noted Obama signing the Children’s Health Insurance Bill as a major step forward for health care and added that as many as five million children who go uninsured are eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but simply are not enrolled. A $100 million national and local outreach program will help to correct this issue, she said. Sebelius did make clear that homelessness causes a staggering amount of health issues among youth.
“Home is not just a place to go at the end of the day,” Sebelius said, adding that without proper food, sleep or hygiene homelessness severely deteriorates young people’s health. HIV/AIDS is 16 times more likely among this group and half of homeless teenage girls become pregnant. Sebelius described a $110 million dollar “science-based” teen pregnancy program to be set in place, as well as the “no wrong door” approach, which serves to provide young people with information and help no matter where they enter the system.
Buck, as well as his friend Ian Grant, 20, who both attended the event with Youth Care from Seattle, find these acknowledgements and efforts effective, but think that attention on youth at the State of the Union address could engage more Americans.
“Obama has the ability to spawn movements,” said Grant, who lives in the transitional program with Youth Care’s Mockingbird Society.
“My vote for Obama was the first vote I ever cast,” Grant said. “I would like to think he will do what it takes, not what’s affordable, to safeguard the development of youth.”