By definition, being vulnerable means one is susceptible to attack, such as a physical or emotional injury. Vulnerability also exists when one is exposed to ridicule. The susceptibility to “fall through the cracks” is a shared common characteristic among some populations in the community. There are three major groups known as vulnerable populations: the elderly, people with disabilities, and children. According to a study by Service Community Assessment of Needs, these three groups have fallen into this category due to their lack of awareness of their situation and lack of available resources and services. In addition, all three groups are unable to advocate for themselves and must rely on others for at least some support services. Furthermore, there are children and families in many communities experiencing poverty; some are suffering from mental health illnesses, some are transient, and others are HIV positive dealing with AIDS. By looking at all the factors that predispose an individual to become vulnerable and eventually harmed in some way is more of a concern than a head count.
Working as an emergency nurse in a community setting, I have had many demanding experiences and also faced various challenges better than I thought I could. I witnessed the lives of many young men who grew beards in the emergency room living intoxicated lives. They were picked up by an ambulance from the street to the emergency room whenever the temperature was below zero or above ninety degrees; they just survived. I witnessed lives of young ladies who faced rape, unwanted pregnancies, and unexpected disease at the time of life when an individual is least prepared for major crises. As I flip these pages, my experience becomes more narrow and specific about this population that I perceive to be most vulnerable. My focus on vulnerable population analyzes late adolescence, ages eighteen to twenty-five. One major assumption is that the end result of vulnerability is physical and emotional harm evidenced by homelessness that occurs in high rates in late adolescence. Two major concepts are lacking in the public’s awareness of the present situation and unavailable resources causes individuals to be susceptible to vulnerability.
According to the executive summary of the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, the estimated numbers of young adults ( ages eighteen to twenty-four) who experience an episode of homelessness each year ranges from approximately 750,000 to two million and are believed to be increasing. Such a large number indicates that our young adults are one of large vulnerable populations in the country. It is clear that they have health care needs that are similar to their non-homeless peers, but due to lack of prevention or early intervention, they often have more advanced illnesses. This age group is more likely than any other group to lack health insurance. Besides a lack of support and available resources for this population, a lack of awareness and appropriate education about health is another predisposing factor that makes them similar to children and elderly who cannot protect themselves.
The lack of health care, housing, education, and employment are major concerns and deficits that exist in young adult’s lives. However, the lack of social support among young adults is another major concern. For example, adults normally have a family network and friends who may offer temporary but adequate support for a person who is an adult facing a crisis. Similarly, young adults (ages eighteen to twenty-four) also have a broad network of friends. Unfortunately, this predisposes them to even more danger and vulnerability since their network of friends tends to be close in age and struggle with the same issues.
In conclusion, the number of unhealthy and ill individuals who have the potential to be healthy and functional is growing every day. It is our job to discover and improve this situation with more effective methods. We can use this as a compensatory framework for recovery of our vulnerable population such as the elderly, disabled and especially late adolescence. Late adolescence through young adulthood (ages eighteen to twenty-five) can be the period of life to live meaningful lives with great potential. This is the type of prevention that can only be achieved through education and is up to us to act fast and efficiently (Service Community Assessment of Needs, 2003, p 47).