Everywhere the COVID-19 pandemic is being called “the great equalizer” and we are all in this “common experience of suffering together”, yet the exacerbated struggles of our already marginalized young people - youth who are homeless, those being trafficked, and those involved in the foster care and juvenile justice systems is being ignored. Their voices are nowhere in the headlines, and nowhere in the national debate.
To me, on the front-line working with these youth, these very statements signal a gross misunderstanding and thoughtless privilege. I don’t know of a single young person who got a stimulus check. But Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse — a place neither I, nor the youth I work with, are ever likely to eat at — just got a cool $20 million. While celebrities get to sing about a future bright with possibility, the young people experiencing homelessness are just trying to find a place with a bathroom they can use.
For those youth and young adults, the pandemic preys on their pre-existing conditions of trauma, victimization and pervasive insecurity. As the founder and executive director of Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity (AHO), a 16 year old Marin nonprofit serving homeless and sex-trafficked youth ages 16 to 25, who have not been in the system, I’ve heard directly from many youth who are struggling now more than ever. I was homeless for years myself and remember the daily panic and deep fear I felt as I worried about having a place to sleep at night. For a young person living on the streets during COVID-19, that panic and fear are multiplied many times over.
Calls to the CA Coalition for Youth (CCY), AHO’s partner in Sacramento, hotline for youth ages 12 to 24 are up 227 percent compared to 2019. A young person repeatedly calls to discuss the continuous and escalating sexual, physical and emotional abuse they are experiencing under the stay-at-home orders. These young people desperately need love and a positive sense of identity. Youth callers report fear, anxiety, loneliness, hopelessness, interpersonal conflict.
As tens of thousands of people all over the globe continue to die from COVID-19, others with safety and stability are beginning to talk about a “silver lining” to this global crisis. Perhaps we’ll unite through politics? Perhaps we’ll reprioritize our public health infrastructure? Perhaps we’ll all learn valuable lessons about what’s truly important?
Our traumatized, resilient young people — many of whom have their circumstances determined by the policies and decisions of the state — are impacted by the pandemic to a much greater degree than anyone who is stably housed in a loving home. In California, our leadership has shown some — well, leadership — announcing $42 million in investments to support youth in foster care and the families who care for them as well as youth who are parenting, which may mitigate the risks to them from enduring homelessness. 
Now and in the post COVID-19 era it will take unprecedented unity and long-term policy solutions to ensure that we don’t lose a generation of young people who have already been victimized and undermined. Maybe this will be the moment we all take a stand and make a new commitment to our children and youth.
We can do better. Make sure the your personal response to COVID-19 and the economic recovery plan for Marin and the State doesn’t leave out our children and youth experiencing homelessness.
 AHO supports homeless youth who have “not been in the system”, so we receive none of this funding.
Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity (AHO) is Marin’s only nonprofit serving homeless teens and young adults ages 18 to 25 who represent 1/3 of Marin’s homeless population. To learn more and help, contact Zara Babitzke at 415.203.0369 and visit us at http://www.ahoproject.org/