Report: Hawaii's homeless youth forced to engage in 'survival sex,' other risky behaviors

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - No one knows exactly how many children are living on the streets of Oahu.

But the Youth Outreach Drop-in Center in Waikiki alone encounters up to 600 children and young adults in an average year — and a new study is providing alarming insight into their turbulent and often dangerous lives.

For many, their troubles are a byproduct of rough lives at home.

"Over half of the kids, their parents were (also) homeless," said Kent Anderson, the chief high-risk services officer at Waikiki Health. "Their parents were in the prison system, or their parents had substance abuse problems."

The report, according to Anderson, underscores the problem with seeing homeless youth as "just a bunch of kids looking for trouble."

Instead, the study confirms that most cases of child homelessness involve abuse — and that many victims end up on the streets because they fled, searching for what they believed was a safer environment.

The Street Youth Study surveyed 151 people between the ages of 12 and 24. All were either homeless or runaways living in Waikiki, Downtown Honolulu or Waianae Boat Harbor.

"More than half of these young people are from Hawaii or were born here and came back after some time. So these are our kids," said Ivette Rodriguez Stern, of the University of Hawaii's Center of the Family.

According to the study, the average age that most children first become homeless is 14 years old. Close to 40 percent say they have experienced some sort of physical violence on the street.

Drug use eventually becomes rampant, as do other risky behaviors. Thirteen percent have admitted to engaging in "survival sex" for food, shelter, money or safety, usually saying the sex acts are forced.

Attempts at suicide are also not uncommon.

While the results of the study are disturbing, the program coordinator at Youth Outreach says they aren't surprising.

"It's day-to-day survival. Reality is, life on the street anywhere is, 'Where am I going to eat tonight?'" said Alika Campbell, program coordinator at Youth Outreach. "'Where am I going to sleep tonight? How do I protect my stuff tonight? What do I have to do to get by until tomorrow?'"

One statistic that was unexpected: Nearly a quarter of homeless youth report being from military families.

Meanwhile, experts say there is a severe shortage of programs for homeless youth.

Many hope the new data will put a spotlight on the issue, so homeless youth can get the help they need.

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