Two Million Youth Face Homelessness in America This Year

By Bonnie Sestito

Day after day, especially at certain times of the day, homelessness stares me in the face. When sitting in my car at an intersection near my home waiting for the light to turn green, men, women, and even teens hold up signs asking for money: “Homeless…Need $$$ for Food…God Bless You;” “Lost Home…Two Small Children…Anything Will Help;” “Homeless…Spare Any Change?”

How often do you encounter homeless people? Have you noticed that they seem to be getting younger? What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see a homeless person? I used to ask myself “why,” because there are so many services available. But now I ask myself to wonder about their story, especially why there are more and more young people out on the streets. Because of my involvement with the youth initiative team of All Hands In, a non-profit 501c3 organization dedicated to raising awareness about human trafficking, it has helped me to have some understanding.

Every year two million kids in America will face a period of homelessness. Some are in a family unit and some are unaccompanied (no parent or guardian). So, what leads kids to this unaccompanied homeless way of life? A pregnant girl is rejected by her guardian, a kid is abused by an alcoholic parent, or is rejected because of her sexual orientation, or is trying to escape gang membership or a life of forced prostitution…. The main cause of homelessness among children and youth is physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse from a parent or guardian.

Here are a few statistics* for you to ponder.

  • 57% of homeless kids spend at least one day every month without food.
  • In the United States, as many as 20,000 kids are forced into prostitution by human trafficking networks every year.
  • 50% of adolescents aging out of foster care and juvenile justice systems will be homeless within six months because they are unprepared to live independently and have limited education and no social support.
  • Almost 40% of homeless persons in the United States are under 18 years old.

These statistics are mind-boggling, but there is something we can all do to make a difference.

  • According to, surveyed runaway youth felt that one of the biggest barriers to getting help was a lack of knowledge about what services exist. Check out the website. You can sign up and get facts on youth homelessness and hang ready-to-printer flyers with a hotline number in key places to help them find vital resources like counseling, shelter, and first aid. (
  • Join the movement with Sleep Out America where, for one night, you can make a difference for homeless youth in your own backyard. Sleep Out is not about pretending to be homeless. It’s a demonstration to homeless young people that you care—deciding that you can’t stay indoors while so many kids remain outdoors. (
  • Become an advocate. Some legislative focuses are trafficking of minors, foster care reform, employment and education programs, transitional housing programs. (

Educate yourself. Advocate for others. And pray that God will open our collective eyes to the need to care for all of God’s children

*Covenant House website,

This post is related to American Baptist Women’s Ministries 2017-2018 mission focus on homelessness. For more information and resources, visit

Bonnie Sestito is president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries of Massachusetts.


Maintain the Right of the Afflicted

By Rev. Angel L. Sullivan

Photo credit: Danielle Scott, used by permission

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” Psalm 82:3

Did you know that, according to NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year? Or that approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life? Going even younger, for children aged 8–15 the estimate is 13%.

We’re talking about this now because AB Women’s Ministries’ 2017-2018 mission focus is on homelessness in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. There is a direct connection between homelessness and mental illness: An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

I work as a hospital chaplain primarily with men, women, and children living with mental illness. I am often asked, “How do you approach persons with mental illness?” My response is simply, “Be kind.” Mental illness is an illness. It is not a punishment from God, karma, or demonic possession, as some people think. It is an illness that presents in various forms. It can present as mood disorders. A person can experience trauma, have a family history, or it can be brought on by substance abuse. In any case, it is an illness and persons should receive the same amount of love and dignity as someone who is facing a chronic or life-threatening physical illness.

As leaders in our churches, homes, communities, and workplaces, we have an opportunity to create comforting spaces that will allow individuals living with mental illness, and family members affected by mental illness, the opportunity to educate and share stories, to help to break down stereotypes, and create support systems.

How can we do this?

  • Hold a church forum where there can be supportive and honest dialogue.
  • Create a mental health ministry where people can feel free to build supportive relationships.
  • If you have a leadership position in your church or community I encourage you to reach out to other mental health professionals in the area and build a professional network. Therefore, if you or a person in your church is in need of support beyond what you can provide, you will know who to call.
  • Contact your government officials and advocate for policy changes to access better funding and resources. I have listed three e-mail helpful e-mail links below.

Finally always remember to just be kind. Kindness goes a long way. These are small changes you can make with a great impact.

Here are some links with more information.

Rev. Angel L. Sullivan is president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. 

Sunday after Christmas: Needing You This Christmas Season

By Jenn Leneus

Madonna and Child, Budapest, (c) 2012 Sandra Hasenauer

Madonna and Child, Budapest, (c) 2012 Sandra Hasenauer

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.11 For as [surely as] the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring forth, so [surely] the Lord God will cause rightness and justice and praise to spring forth before all the nations [through the self-fulfilling power of His word]. For Zion’s sake will I [Isaiah] not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her imputed righteousness and vindication go forth as brightness, and her salvation radiates as does a burning torch.And the nations shall see your righteousness and vindication [your rightness and justice—not your own, but His ascribed to you], and all kings shall behold your salvation and glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall name.You shall also be [so beautiful and prosperous as to be thought of as] a crown of glory and honor in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem [exceedingly beautiful] in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 61:10–62:3, AMP)

Christmas time is a season of celebration and of praise. It is a season of remembrance and appreciation; for even before we were of existence, before we had breath in our bodies, God saw fit to save us from a world of destruction. He provided a way before we even knew we needed direction. Christ left his throne of glory, and became human for our sake. He came for men and women alike; not differentiating between sexes, color, age, or religion, making one of more importance. He came to provide life to the lifeless.

We are called to walk in the image of Christ and to see as he sees. As women, we are beautiful. Not just on the outside, but on the inside. We ought to teach other women their worth and self-value. In this day and time where human trafficking is at an all-time high, but is being kept low-key as if it is not an issue, women all around the world are being degraded and treated as less than human. Are we any better than them? Do they deserve the life that they are given? Of course not! I believe we have certain issues in our environment so that we are able to grow as one in the body. For the body has many members, but each member has a specific task to complete (1st Corinthians 12:12). If there is an open wound in the body, the heart picks up its pace and pumps more blood to accommodate for the loss. In the same manner, we ought to go out and reach out to our sisters that are suffering, whether it is through missions, outreach, or simply prayer. We are commissioned to go out to the four corners of the earth to introduce Christ to others (Matthew 28:19).

In the spirit of Christmas, let us remember our sisters in prayer. Lift them up before God so that God may hear our cries and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). Let’s give them the assurance of being fearfully and wonderfully made. Together we can make a difference. Let us take this time to make a resolution to empower and uplift a woman, a young lady, or a little girl at least once a week. Who are we without each other? We are just one part of a body that needs our other parts in order to be fully functional!

Jenn LeneusJennifer Leneus serves as coordinator of Young Adult Women’s Ministries (2014-2017) on the national board of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. A member of Haitian Baptist Church at the Crossroads in Newark, New Jersey, Jenn served as secretary of the Youth Federation Committee for the Haitian Alliance of ABCUSA for three years. Jenn has helped plan several national events for young adult women sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. She is a graduated practical nursing student and is working towards her Bachelors in Nursing.


Hope in Prayer

By Emilie Rodriguez

Prayer Vigil Border credit CWS Aug 29 2014

Prayer vigil at the border, 8-29-14. Photo used by permission, Church World Service.

The breeze comes in through the open car window as we drive across the U.S. border into Tijuana. I look out on streets filled with people going to and from work, school, maybe even wandering around trying to find a place to call home. As I inhaled, memories of my childhood fill my mind, trying to burst free: hitting the piñata at countless birthday parties, cheering as my cousins played soccer with our older aunts and uncles, falling asleep on our way home as we cross the border back to the U.S. We arrive at the Primera Iglesia Bautista de Tijuana, the First Baptist Church of Tijuana. When we enter the building, my eyes widen in surprise. People from all over the United States have come to the vigil: Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, Boston, San Diego—and that’s just the people on this side of the border. Still more were gathering on the other side of the border to join us in prayer.

It gives me hope that so many have come to aid the crisis, come to do something about it and support the efforts. The discussion begins and we conference with our brothers and sisters in San Diego, those who are going to meet up with us later at the park. We go around the room, discussing what has been happening in each of our regions, each person speaking about the children and families that are haunted by the atrocities going on their countries. They’ve seen the faces of these refugees and want to help them overcome their traumatic experiences. The preliminary discussion ends and we head to the Border Field State Park. There, the people in San Ysidro come to join us, facing us across the fence from the U.S. side of the park. There we stand united, linked across two countries, and we all feel hope coursing through each of us. We begin the prayer and as we pray to God, pleading that he helps us fight this humanitarian crisis, my mind finds peace. A sense of calm courses through me, and I know that no matter what happens, God will help.

Emilie Rodriguez 2013-2015Emilie Rodriguez is convenor of the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, AB Women’s Ministries. A senior in high school, Emilie served as AB Women’s Ministries’ representative at a prayer vigil hosted by American Baptist Churches USA held at the border on August 29, 2014. To watch a video of the prayer vigil, click here.

AB Women’s Ministries 2014-2015 mission focus is “Crisis at the Border: What Could I Do?” For information, resources, and a link to subscribe to monthly emails on the topic, visit

Beyond the Dirt and the Sign

Contributed by Rev. Angel Sullivan

shutterstock_130231589Every day on my way to and from work, I see dirty, gaunt, matted-hair people—some with bikes and pets, other with backpacks and grocery carts—but all of them with a cup and a hand-written sign that reads, “I am hungry—I just lost my job—Will you please help me?” For a time, I would give those that I saw the loose change I had in my car or an extra apple that I had left over from lunch. But after awhile, I found myself having less loose change, and fewer leftovers to give, due to my own financial circumstances. While I knew that an extra apple and a quarter or two from me wasn’t making a drastic change in a person’s life, I still felt bad that I was not able to give, and I felt a deep desire to be able to help in some way. Soon I found and joined an independent ministry which was, unfortunately, short-lived, but it was powerful. It allowed me to be able to connect with the homeless in ways that I may not have otherwise.

Once a month, every first Friday, a group of women and men collected clothes, prepared warm stews, and made sandwiches. At dusk we hit the streets of Tampa to give out to the homeless what we’d prepared and collected, along with bottles of water, and at the same time we had conversation with them and tried to encourage them. It was during this time that I was able to hear first-hand the stories of homeless persons.

I learned that some were skilled laborers who had gotten hurt on the job and did not have health insurance or benefits; the expense of their medical care and their inability to work eventually left them unable to afford to pay rent. Others were escaping abuse and left everything behind just to find freedom. Some had moved here from different countries without the support of friends or family, hoping for a better life but unable to find secure work. Others were veterans, or people suffering with addiction, and some were mentally ill. They were various ethnicities, religions, genders, and ages. To my surprise, I met a few who were well-educated college graduates like me, but who had fallen on hard times. I have to admit, I had made the assumption that those who were homeless might not have had educational opportunities because, of course (I reasoned), if one were educated one would naturally be able to find employment. However, I learned, that is not always true.

After speaking with the people that I met through this ministry, I realized that each person has a story and, more importantly, each person has a life beyond what the signs and dirty clothing told. I came to the realization that if I were to lose my job today and was unable to quickly find another job at the same wages, I would not be able to pay my bills. I would be living on the street. I would be the one holding the sign. And I am not alone.

While reports from 2013 have shown that the decline in homelessness has decreased by 0.4%, there is still much work to be done.

  • There was a decrease in all homeless sub-populations, with the exception of persons in families.
  • The largest decreases were seen among individuals identified as chronically homeless (6.8%) and veterans (7.2%).
  • The size of the chronic homeless population decreased from 107,148 in 2011 to 99,894 in 2012. The size of the veteran homeless population decreased from 67,495 in 2011 to 62,619 in 2012.
  • The national rate of homelessness was 20 homeless people per 10,000 people in the general population. The rate for veterans was 29 homeless veterans per 10,000 veterans in the general population.
  • A majority of persons identified as homeless were staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing; 38% were unsheltered, living on the streets, or in cars, abandoned buildings, or other places not intended for human habitation. The size of the unsheltered population remained basically unchanged between 2011 and 2012.
  • The number of people in homeless families increased by 1.4% between 2011 and 2012; however, there was no change in the total number of homeless families.
  • While the overall homeless population decreased between 2011 and 2012, it increased in 29 states.

After reading the statistics, the issue of homelessness is overwhelming to me. However, after listening to the stories of the homeless persons I’ve met, I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot let my fear stop me from trying. I have to match my fear with my faith, knowing that when we all work together for the greater good of humanity, God’s power will manifest positive change.
(Statistics are from

AngelSullivan2013smRev. Angel Sullivan, chaplain, serves as the events coordinator on the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Registration is still open for “Break Every Yoke: Homelessness,” May 5-9, 2014, a virtual mission encounter sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. This virtual mission encounter offers the opportunity for participants to explore homelessness from a faith perspective. What are the causal factors? What are the risks? How can we support those who are homeless? How can our congregations, or we as individuals, engage in ministries of prevention, support, and advocacy? Each day’s focus will be explored as it has impact upon youth, adults and families, and seniors, with suggestions for advocacy around a range of issues throughout the week. For more information, visit