PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month and Philadelphia is one of the cities using the opportunity to take a hard look at its own homeless youth population.
Joseph Hill Coles spent only a short time, after leaving juvenile detention, in his adoptive home. He would then couch surf with friends, before ending up on the street at 19.
Coles took refuge in a tow truck that was left unlocked until the owner found out. He then turned to the shelter system.
“You had a whole bunch of people in one space, people with mental instabilities, violent individuals, bed bug-infested, no hot water,” he said. “I remember contemplating committing a crime and going back to jail for the winter.”
It all changed when he managed to get into Covenant House, which is tailored to teens and young adults.
Today, at 24, Coles is Philadelphia’s first “community navigator,” a combination case manager, counselor and mentor to others going through what he did.
“I certainly wouldn’t change anything though because I believe if I had changed anything, I wouldn’t be where I am right now,” he said. “I feel like that was something I had to go through in order to be an example to these young people today.
He’s even briefed congressmen and spoken to advocates.
“This is a much bigger fight,” he said. “There’s a couple of different things, lack of education, juvenile justice, things that have to be tackled at some point in time and changed.”
Coles hopes that a study that scheduled for release, Wednesday, will shed light on this issue and show how complicated the problem is.
The study by researchers from a University of Chicago program found 569 people, between 13 and 25, as homeless or unstably housed in the city, A disproportionate 70 percent African-American.
The research also found that a third of the females were either pregnant or parents, and 37 percent had been in foster care or detention facilities.
Coles believes that the right policies, informed by the report, could end youth homelessness.