South LA homeless youth need homes, not shelter

Demonque Williams at Sanctuary of Hope. | Photo by Anna-Cat Brigida

Demonque Williams at Sanctuary of Hope. | Photo by Anna-Cat Brigida

Demonque Williams exited the foster care system at age 18 in 2010 with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Now 22, he still does not have a stable home. On a good day, he sleeps in a shelter or uses a hotel voucher. Most nights he sleeps on the street.

“I need emotional help,” Williams said sitting on the couch at Sanctuary of Hope, a program for homeless youth in South L.A. “I need somebody to talk to. I need to keep mentally strong out there. I need encouragement.”

Williams has found some support through Sanctuary of Hope, a South L.A. organization that provides transitional housing and assistance to homeless youth. As part of the South L.A. Transition Age Youth and Foster Care Collaborative, it aims to serve young adults among South L.A.’s homeless population.

South L.A has the largest homeless population in the city with more than 11,000 recorded according to an estimate by the 2013 L.A. Homeless Count. More than 2,000 of these individuals are under the age of 24.

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Social networking helps keep homeless youth safe

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News:


image Homeless youth in Los Angeles are technologically wired. Their connections to the outside world are making their lives safer, according to a study by University of Southern California School of Social Work assistant professor Eric Rice. Rice received a three-year $2.1 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study social networking among the homeless.

Rice and his co-investigator, Norweeta Milburn from the University of California Los Angeles, will look at two primary hubs of homelessness in the Los Angeles area – Hollywood and Santa Monica – to explore how and why homeless youth engage with each other and the outside world through social media.

“What’s happening is that the young people who are using social networking sites connect to best friends from home or family members that they still have good relationships with,” Rice said. “Those young people are the ones that are doing well. They’re using fewer drugs, they’re engaging in less risky sex and, partially because they have an anchor, they have an anchor to another social world that’s less filled with risk.”

Rice and Milburn hope to create new and innovative interventions to deter risky sexual behavior and drug-use.

“If I can help understand what’s going on in their lives and what’s working for them, then I can try to help agencies that serve these youth to deliver programs better, help develop newer programs that hit them right where they’re at,” Rice said.

While homeless services and programs do exist for youth in Los Angeles, the ways in which social media can be incorporated into those programs has not yet been explored.

“When we think about creating social media programs for these young people, we want to think about a few different things,” Rice said. “But one of the things we want to think about is trying to create programs that really encourage those young people to connect back to those positive influences. If most of these homeless youth that are doing well have someone in their lives that they can turn to, we want to encourage them to do that.”