“Homeless Youth” vs. “Youth Experiencing Homelessness”: What's the Difference?
In case you missed it, we've been getting some buzz around here! Several media sources have jumped on our story, and we couldn't be happier about the increased community awareness!
Often when we receive coverage, though, the phrase "homeless youth" is what's used to describe our employees. If you haven't noticed, we use the term “youth experiencing homelessness” or “youth experiencing housing instability.” With the rise in attention, we thought we'd take a second to explain why this seemingly innocuous distinction is so important. We promise we're not just splitting hairs here.
It's called People First Language, and it's essential. This style of language is a way of describing an individual as a human first, then followed by their circumstances, diagnosis, or personality traits. It's a way to describe an individual by WHO they are and not by WHAT they are. Our youth are not defined by what is a transitionary state in their housing. At one point in time, they had a home, they currently do not, and we know they will again. We cannot describe our employees by their housing status, they are so much more.
It's a flat and one-dimensional way of thinking about individuals. When we say homeless youth, we are entirely ignoring any aspect of the individual aside from a perceived negative trait. We are ignoring that our youth are incredible and unique individuals. That each young person we work with has their own dreams, ambitions, and goals. That they come in with incredible skills, knowledge, and talents. That they are friends, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, and brothers. That they are future lawyers, policymakers, doctors, nurses, authors or chefs. It reduces them from the vivacious, capable, and powerful youth we know them as to just, homeless. See the difference?
When we use this style of language, we are actively choosing not to define our employees by what society perceives as being a negative situation. We want to recognize the dignity of our employees and their personhood and describe them in ways that speak to their unending possibilities and a bright future. Let's focus on their humanity and not the temporary circumstances they're experiencing.
We know its a bit wordier, but don't you think its worth it? We do.