Homelessness Lands Ector County Youth Behind Bars
By: Sarah Snyder
NewsWest 9

ECTOR COUNTY - They're sleeping in cars, shelters, and doing just about anything to stay afloat. And they're all young teenagers. A growing number of West Texas families have no place to call home and it's landing a lot of kids behind bars.

"They're living in cars, they're living in hotels, so we're seeing that now," Ector County Youth Detention Center Facility Administrator James Jones, said. "Before, we never had that."

What was almost unheard of is now the norm at the Ector County Youth Detention Center. A growing number of their teen offenders are coming through the door having had no home, and that is the problem that led many of the kids to crime.

"As the economy goes down we're seeing a big rise in drug use," Jones said. "We're seeing a big rise in people selling drugs, bringing drugs in, I guess that's a way to compensate."

But there's another alarming trend, these juvenile offenders coming in off the streets don't want to leave the center when their time's up. In fact many choose to keep re-offending just so they'll have a place to stay.

"The biggest thing is they're fed 3 meals a day, they can take a shower every day, and we see kids that when they start getting ready to get out, they'll start doing things to stay here," Jones said. "They really don't want to go back because they have no place to go to. That's pretty sad."

Homelessness has also hit Ector County classrooms. More than 700 students across the district have been identified as homeless. School administrators say, that's playing a huge factor in their classroom behavior.

"Homeless students do have more instances of behavioral problems," Scott Randolph with E.C.I.S.D. Student Assistant Services, said. "They're dealing with a lot of issues that other kids don't have to deal with. They may come to school sleepy because their parents were fighting last night or they may not have eaten the previous night."

District officials say they're constantly busy working with homeless students to provide clothing, counseling, and transportation.