As a pediatrician who cares for youth and families experiencing homelessness, I write to expand on the article titled “It is in Minnesota taxpayers’ interest to invest in families’ housing stability now,” by Steven Foldes. The value of investing in housing stability for youth and young families has never been clearer and extends well beyond the financial benefits to taxpayers. An investment in housing is an investment in the health of Minnesotans.
I have witnessed firsthand the critical impact of housing on the health of children, youth and families. The facts are staggering. One in 20 high school students experience homelessness every year in Minnesota. Among them, they experience dramatically higher rates of chronic physical health conditions, mental health, and substance use disorders when compared with their peers who have stable places to lay their heads at night, often in the face of significant trauma, adversity and marginalization. Over half of youth experiencing homelessness have attempted suicide in the past.
Yet, despite the many challenges they face, the stories I hear from youth I meet in shelter are ones of tremendous resilience. Youth experiencing homelessness are remarkably resourceful. They have learned to survive and sometimes thrive, within and in spite of systems that have perpetually failed them. Almost all dream of a life that is better. They dream of becoming artists, musicians, teachers, business owners, lawyers, nurses and doctors. They dream of reforming the systems that have failed them. They dream of sleeping in comfortable bed without worrying for their safety. Sometimes, they dream of “just feeling OK” again. This all starts with stable housing.
Investing in children and youth experiencing homelessness is not only a wise fiscal decision, as Foldes points out, it is an investment in a healthier Minnesota, now and in the future. Housing IS health.
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