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The needs of youth in Missoula, Montana

Updated on November 17, 2016
Homeless Youth of America
Homeless Youth of America | Source


Youth makes up 24% of our national population in 2010, it makes up 23% of the Montana population and here in Missoula there are 19.5% youth according to the US census Bureau. Given the amount of youth in our area each single individual faces an issue relating to his or her mental, physical and emotional health. These issues could be obesity, bullying, alcohol, drugs, reading levels, and various others.

While researching the most important issues that the youth in Missoula, Montana face currently. It was found that poverty and suicide had the most alarming figures. Also the research found that between these two areas there are programs that are in place but each program or organization has gaps that are making them not as effective as they could be or need to be. This paper will identify the magnitude of the issue, the organization or programs in place and the gaps within those programs.


800% of the national average of homeless youth is right here in Missoula! In 2009 Missoula’s population of children between the ages of 5-18 was 14,820. Only 13,186 of these were enrolled in school. 3,892 are listed as “in poverty”. Geoff Birnbaum from Youth Homes identified that more than 300 of these children are either homeless or living without a consistent bed. That is almost 8% of the “in poverty” youth. Compare this to the National figures of 1%. This is a staggering figure.

In addition 21% of America’s youth are suffering from poverty. One step from that at 20% of Montana’s youth are below poverty. Meanwhile 19.1% of Missoula’s youth population is in poverty considered circumstances. Although poverty takes back seat to other issues like alcohol and drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and violence it directly impacts them. The American Psychological Association (APA) identifies several areas that youth in poverty are impacted in. Here is a breakdown.

First, and most importantly, being in poverty plays a role in the mental well-being of our youth. According to the APA mental well-being is perceived as emotional and mental faculties. This means that being in poverty can impact how we process fear, emotion, normal action, and expression. Leading to impulsiveness, difficulty getting along with peers, aggression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorders. Fear impacts the fight or flight reaction by changing a youth’s identification to dangerous situations. This causes them to make risky decisions more frequently. Also, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are huge emotional impacts. These can leave youth with a higher probability for emotional outbursts and suicide. Suicide in Missoula plays a large role in our nation’s statistics.

Connected to mental disorders are educational and learning issues. The APA said, “Chronic stress associated with living in poverty has been shown to adversely affect children’s concentration and memory which may impact their ability to learn.” This is a developmental issue coming from a coping mechanism of their young minds processing and dealing with poverty. In order to not be impacted by an individual’s circumstances and experiences a youth thinks and processes through short term memories so as to not suffer the feeling of loss. When developing and learning, these mental habits and blocks can be difficult to overcome. They can also change the process of maintaining information for long-term growth. The APA said it is 10 times more likely that a youth in poverty is going to drop out of high school than one who has his/her needs met.

Next, poverty impacts youth’s social connections they have the opportunity to gain in and out of school. Their interactions with others become adversely impacted by communication and action. Not having financial support for after school programs, results in some kids getting left behind. It than becomes more difficult to develop these areas. They end up building social skills from other youth who are in a similar situation. They look up too those who are normally older, more experienced in negative aspects, and who have a jaded view of leadership. This social impact can also lead to social disorders.

Lastly a youth’s health can be devastatingly impacted by poverty in several ways. This often leads to chronic conditions such as asthma, anemia, and pneumonia. Another risky behavior caused is smoking. Without guidance youth also end up engaging in early sexual activity. All of these are concerning and something that should be addressed. Which is directly related to the high percentage of underage pregnancy is Missoula. In addition poor nutrition, lack of health care, and exposure to violence all take their toll on youth.

How do we impact our areas performance on poverty? We can re-identify what poverty is. Poverty, according to Wikipedia, is the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money. Also relative poverty refers to lacking the usual or socially acceptable level of resources as compared with others within a society. If we can provide youth with the basic needs, compassion, and the resources that they need, than we will be able to impact these negative aspects of poverty on our youth. Several organizations in our area and nationally have identified that improving the lives of the youth around us enable them to make better decisions. This is by taking them out of the normal circumstances where they do not see outside their world. By showing and creating the want and desire you also imbed a motivation for them to achieve. In order to achieve they must dream and in order to dream they must envision.

Many successful organizations making a huge difference with our youth are YMCA, Youth Homes, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys &Girls Club of America, City Life Community Center, Gallagher Children’s Home, Tom Roy Guidance Home, and Partnership for Children. Over possessions and money the resource that our youth need most is time. Time is something those organizations do not have endless amounts of and need our help to develop. The reason is that most individuals who have recognize the issue have families of their own and must develop time into personal relationships. But there is an alternative and that is awareness. In conclusion to combat the negative aspects of poverty on the youth in our area they must be shown personal value. Not by giving them a president’s face on a bill, but my helping them to get the correct building blocks to change the world.


America is affected by suicide on a daily basis. According to the National Vital Statistics Report, “suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death for all ages.” While that number is alarming it is not as alarming as it is for the youth in America. The CDC reports that for youth ages 10-24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. To make matters worse, Montana is among the top five states that hold the highest percentage of suicide rates and have been holding that spot for nearly 30 years. Not only is Montana in the top five but also are above the national average. To help express this magnitude between the state and the nation we will look at the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The surveys are consisting of randomly selected students statewide within the grades 9 though 12. Students were asked various questions regarding health risk issues that adolescents face today, one being suicide. Here are the results of the questions regarding suicide:

• The national average reported 13.8% of students have considered attempting suicide while Montana reported 17.4%.

• The national average reported 6.4% of students have attempted suicide at lease once where as Montana reported 7.7% of its students attempting. Viii

• The national average reported 1.9% of students who have attempted suicide that resulted in an injury where as Montana reported 2.8%. viii

In all the above areas Montana ranked higher then the national average, this puts our youth at a greater risk then other states among our nation. To add one more piece to the severity of the issue it was reported in the same survey that 27.3% of students reported having a high level of feelings of hopelessness that lasted for several days. Combining all the statistics that surround suicide in Montana it can be seen that this problem needs to be addressed before we lose any more students. Luckily there are a few people who are stepping up to the plate to address the issue but it is left to interpretation about the gaps between those programs.

Montana has recognized that suicide has been too high for too long, so to remedy the situation Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services created the position of Suicide Prevention Coordinator. Maureen O’Malley is the Missoula Reprehensive for that position. She works consistently on reducing the suicide rate in Missoula by trying to find partners in the community and education awareness programs. O’Malley expressed three areas that need improvement.

The first area of need for improvement is an access reduction program. These programs are intended to reduce the access that youth have to getting the resources needed to commit suicide. She explained a study that proved that if a person has attempted to get a resource but couldn’t that they were more likely to not try again because they were in a state of fluster instead of focus. Another gap within our community she addressed was that Missoula has 300 professionals who can help a suicidal person but because of the stigma on asking for help, no one goes to those people. She explained if that gap of connecting those two individuals then the rate should go down. The last area she recognized as to having a gap was educating the public to recognize the signs. They currently focus on educating the bartenders, gas station attendant, and other areas that are likely for an individual to go to in order to gather up the recourses needed. She expresses the importance of educational programs that help all community members recognize the signs. Reducing the accessibility to recourses, providing the connection and educating the public are all areas that would greatly reduce the rate of suicides in Montana as a whole.

Karl Rosston is another Suicide prevention coordinator for the state of Montana. Rosston formulated a Montana Strategic Suicide Prevention Plan witch explains in full details a plan of action for the state of Montana. She was given a set amount of money where in an article by the Helena newspaper reported that she used half the money on a suicide hotline located in Great Falls MT. There are other ideas in place such as S.O.S. Signs of Suicide which has already given 150 secondary education schools a starter kit. One of the largest gaps within these programs is that a majority if not all of her programs have little to none youth involved in the planning program. When students are involved fully in programs such as these they gain a better more hands on learning experience of the severity of the issue at hand.

Another organization that is taking a stand is Kiwanis, which fully involves students in their projects. They provide the leadership and resources to Key Club that then in turns puts on student lead projects relating to suicide. The gap within this program is that the students do not have to focus on suicide; they can choose other issues such as obesity or volunteer involvement. With suicide being such a high risk that Montana is facing we do not have the leisure time to wait for the students to choose to focus on suicide.

Suicide is at such an alarming rate that needs to be addressed now. Given that Montana alone has the 2nd highest rate in suicide and Missoula is 2 times the national average. While there are programs available in our state and community, there are too many gaps within them all. Gaps such as not enough education programs, too many accessible resources needed to attempt suicide, programs that don’t involve the youth, or programs that are not made a priority. The gaps need to be filled imminently or our state will continue to sit in the top five highest rate of suicide like it has for the past 30 years.


Poverty and suicide effect roughly 19% of Missoula’s youth. Both of these issues are two of the most alarming needs that if are not address result in the loss of a child or puts them at a great risk. Simply by filling the gaps of the programs that address these needs, the alarming statistics can be reduced and a child’s life can be saved.

What is your responce to this social issue?

When you hear about a child without consistancy or care, what is your reaction?

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[1]"Homeless Youth." National Coalition for the Homeless. National Coalition for the Homeless June 2008. Web. 06 Oct. 2011. <>

[1] "Demographics of Poor Children." National Center for Children in Poverty. Web. <>.

[1]Kassel, Kathleen. "ERS/USDA Data - 2009 Poverty Rates for MT." USDA Economic Research Service - Home Page. ERS/USDA. Web. 06 Oct. 2011. <>.

[1]"Effects of Poverty, Hunger, and Homelessness on Children and Youth." American Psychological Association (APA). American Psychological Association. Web. 06 Oct. 2011. <>.

[1] "Missoula Measures: Teen Pregnancy." Missoula County Home. Missoula County. Web. 06 Oct. 2011. <>.

[1]National Vital Statistics Reports. Rep. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011. Web. 2011.

[1]NCIPC. "CDC - Injruy - Youth Suicide." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Oct. 2009. Web. 1 Oct. 2011.

[1]Rep. Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Denis Juneau, 2009. Web. 2011.

[1]Rep. Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Denis Juneau, 2009. Web. 2011.

[1]Scott, Tristan. "Montana's Suicide Rate No. 1." - Helena, Montana Daily News. Helena Independent Record, 10 Feb. 2008. Web. 1 Oct. 2011.

[1]Montana Strategic Suicide Prevention Plan. Rep. Karl Rosston, 2011. Web. 2011.>.; page 7

© 2016 Benjamin Corey


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