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Ignoring youth refugees fleeing from violence in American homes

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POSTED July 15, 2014 12:58 a.m.

Go down Yosemite Avenue after the bars close.

Somewhere along Manteca’s main east-west route during the course of several weeks you will see someone out of place. It’s not a meth head who can’t sleep, the perennial homeless forging through Toters for aluminum cans, or young folks out way past curfew. It’s a lone teen, more likely than not a boy.

Given the hours I work, you see a lot of things. But several years ago I started realizing some of the people on the streets were out of place. The first time I passed the young man — I later learned he was 16 — he was fairly nicely dressed and curled up on a bench hugging a skateboard at 2 a.m. After noting him a few more times, I made some inquiries. Come to find out he was a runaway from a fairly abusive family situation and some local non-profits and churches were doing their best to try and help him.

The worst part is the teen was not an abnormality.

Though numbers vary, virtually all agencies tracking runaways agree there are well over 1.2 million a year between the ages of 12 and 17 in the United States Of those, the National Center for Family Homelessness reports 46 percent were physically abused at home, 38 percent emotionally abused, and 17 percent sexually abused. Most return home within a week. Somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 don’t. Call them refugees fleeing a violent and unsafe situation.

No one is proposing spending $3.7 billion on them. No one is putting them on flights to temporary homes where they can be fed, clothed, sheltered, educated, cared for, and out of harm’s way.

They are the American innocent, left to fend for themselves on the streets.

They fled violence and being exploited sexually. And while they didn’t travel hundreds upon hundreds of miles across deserts and through another country, they left home seeking a safer and better life.

There aren’t spirited debates about whether we should help these kids. Perhaps if they had slipped into Canada or Mexico and made their way back into the United States the powers that be in Washington, D.C., would burn the midnight oil to find ways to help them.

The sad truth there is nothing much worse than being a child or a teen in the United States that is physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused and feeling the only safe place to turn to improve your lot is the streets.

Their plight isn’t highlighted on the national news. Governors and the president don’t spar over their well being. Congress doesn’t debate whether enough or too much is being spent on them.

No elected officials are going on fact finding missions to their neighborhoods to see why they are fleeing and what can be done to make them feel the need not to do so.

There are 50,000 illegal immigrants ranging in age from 7 to 17 that made their way to the United States on their own who have a lot of Americans passionately debating their future. It’s in stark contrast to domestic runaways.

The national conscience debates the homeless and plight of young people from other countries that flee illegally to America to seek refuge status. Yet those caught in the same situation here as American citizens barely get a thought in our political debates.

Consider the homeless situation. There are some 1.6 million homeless kids in any given year in this country. Granted, 71 percent of them are kids who are “doubling up” sleeping in a relative’s home, in a friend’s house or garage or else in some well-established location. The rest are bouncing from motels, to cars, to tents, to under bridges, to abandoned buildings to simply curling up on the street on a bench.

Manteca Unified deals with 700 homeless youth in any given year. The federal government through county and state agencies spends a whopping $23,000 on the homeless including youth in Manteca-Lathrop-Ripon though grants to HOPE Family Shelter that account for an seventh of their budget. The rest is raised from individuals and churches.

No one is proposing throwing money at American refugees under the age of 18. If anything we’re ignoring them.

Not so for those that fled their homes in Central America.

We are told by those who want to help the 50,000 foreign youth that entered this country on their own and illegally that not helping them shows a lack of empathy.

Too bad those who lecture everyone else aren’t as passionate about American kids.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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