Helping Homeless Youth not only Survive, but Thrive

It boils down to helping homeless youth not only survive, but thrive.
It’s one thing to provide a homeless young person with a roof over her head. It’s another thing to teach that person how to successfully maintain a stable home so she can focus on her goals and improve her life. The TLP program helps transition-age youth, ages 17-21, develop essential life skills that will serve them well beyond their time in the program.

Getting Angel and Marcus “Home”

Traditionally, the TLP program works with individual young men or women. Some of them have children of their own. But when we met Angel, our program had the unique opportunity to help support an entire young family.

Angel was a good student with a lot of potential. But due to her mom’s mental health issues, she frequently found herself out of the home without a place to stay. Then Angel became pregnant. Between trying to parent her daughter and find a stable place to live, Angel’s school attendance began to suffer. Her high school counselor took notice and contacted Huck House.

The Huck House TLP team connected with Angel and her boyfriend, Marcus, when they were living in the family shelter, desperately trying to find a way to care for their infant son. When the family entered the TLP program, the young couple received the support they needed to flourish. With a safe place to stay, they were able to care for their son and focus on their individual goals at the same time. Both Angel and Marcus were committed to giving their son a better start in life than what they had experienced. And so, with their team’s support, they worked hard to set and achieve goals. Ultimately, Marcus was able to secure a well-paying, full-time job while Angel finished high school.

As Angel and Marcus prepared to finish the program, their TLP team helped the young family secure permanent low-income housing. Marcus will continue to work while Angel attends Columbus State. The couple is using the skills gained in the program to parent their son and maintain a secure and healthy home for him and themselves.
“Angel and Marcus are amazing young people with a true desire to improve their futures and break the cycle of generational poverty for their own child,” says Amanda Glauer, LSW, TLP Team Leader. “The TLP program provided the guidance and support they needed to learn how to make it on their own. Now, instead of a young family on the streets or in a shelter, they’re living independently and thriving. They just needed the opportunity to make that happen.”

Using Strengths to Build Safe, Supportive Homes

It’s ultimately about helping teens and families use their strengths to build a safe and supportive home.
Whether we’re working with young people from our Crisis Program, youth from our Transitional Living Program, or families who come to us specifically for counseling, the young people and families we serve all face tough challenges. But they also have strengths. We leverage those strengths to help teens and families develop skills they can use to tackle their issues and to grow as individuals and families.

Getting Brian “Home”

When parents and teens don’t see eye to eye, it can lead to a lot of fighting and discord. Sometimes, it leads to depression and even suicidal thoughts.

While 16-year-old Brian was fortunate to have a safe home and a loving family, he wasn’t really “at home” there. When his school referred him to the Family Support Program, Brian wasn’t eating. He wasn’t going to school. In fact, he wasn’t doing much of anything other than spending time in a dark room all day.

His parents were clearly concerned. But a lack of communication as well as cultural differences—Brian’s parents are immigrants, while Brian was born and raised in the U.S.—made it hard for them to connect. Brian’s mom was pushing him to “snap out of it” by getting involved in activities like sports. Problem was, Brain just wasn’t interested. And the things he did want to do were not supported or appreciated by his parents. The constant conflict led to severe depression.

During counseling sessions with Brain and his mom, we helped the family find ways to better understand each other. When mom gave permission for Brian to pursue some of his own interests, such as drama club and math club, Brian began to come out of his shell. In return, Brian also started to show interest in the things that were important to his parents, such as learning about and participating in the family’s culture.
“We knew this family had a lot of strengths and that mom clearly wanted to help her son, she just wasn’t sure how,” says Abbey Wollschleger, LISW-S, Family Support Program Team Leader. “By working with them on communication skills, we helped this family better understand each other and create a much more supportive home. Brian has shown tremendous improvement. He’s not just getting out of bed and going to school now; he is enjoying his life and his relationship with his family.”

Getting Kids Connected

It comes down to getting kids connected to services and support that can help.

At-risk young people too often fall through the cracks because they do not know where to go for help, or they have a hard time asking for support. The Youth Outreach Program addresses that need by meeting kids where they are and by providing a safe, convenient place for youth to find us. Between our youth outreach runs and the YOP Shop, our goal is to find as many at-risk youth as possible and help them connect to services and resources that can support them in developing life skills, setting and reaching goals, and creating a road map to the future they want.

Getting Ameila “Home”

When 22-year-old Amelia came to the YOP Shop, she was homeless and pregnant. She had a juvenile record, an eviction, and was legally blind. While she had a strong desire to get her life on track and provide for her baby, she had no idea where to start.

At the YOP Shop, she found the direction and guidance she needed. First, Amelia’s YOP counselor helped her make and get to doctors’ appointments so she could get contacts and literally see more clearly. Then the YOP program helped her put her future in focus, too.

By connecting Amelia to the Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program (JRAP), Amelia received the support and guidance she needed to start the process of getting her juvenile record expunged, removing a major obstacle to reaching her future employment and housing goals. Her YOP Shop team also helped her find resources to aid in her job search. The team was able to secure temporary housing through a program that provides support for parenting mothers. Then, the YOP Shop workers advocated on Amelia’s behalf to secure a permanent apartment for her.

To help Amelia provide the best start for her new baby, Huckleberry House staff set up an online baby shower drive. Through generous donations, Amelia received many baby necessities including clothing, a crib, and diapers, all things she needed to give her child the best start in life.

Instead of Amelia and her baby facing life on the streets, today they are secure in their own home. Amelia continues to work and provide for her daughter. With the YOP Shop’s support, she continues to see the future she wants and to move closer to it every day.

Tiffany Hiibner

Now We’re Getting Somewhere

At Huckleberry House, getting youth to a better place wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of individual and corporate donors who believe in our work and our commitment to helping young people move through challenges and move toward their goals. We are grateful to the tremendous support of all of our contributors. We asked a good friend of Huck House to tell us why she gives.

“Being new to Columbus, I was interested in learning about and serving the community. Through my employer, I heard about Huck House and was immediately drawn to the cause. I learned more about the Huck House mission, and I knew I had to get involved.
Here’s why… As an adoptive parent, I had the chance to interact quite a bit with my daughter’s birth parents throughout the pregnancy and birth. Through our conversations, I learned about their past. They both had faced very tough times growing up, which led to continued troubles in adulthood. Their struggles brought them to a place where they were not going to be able to keep their child, a decision nobody would ever want to make. I saw their struggles, and I knew that, had they had a safe place like Huck House available to them, life could have taken a much different path.

I see them, my daughter’s birth parents, in the many faces of the clients that Huck House serves each and every day. I will forever be indebted to them for giving me the gift of being a mother. Today, my daughter is a beautiful, loving, funny, smart five-year-old. Truly, I view her birth parents as heroes for making such a difficult choice that ultimately benefited my daughter and gave her the opportunity to thrive in a healthy and loving household.

By supporting Huck House, I feel I am giving a little something back to them – possibly helping others who might be in similar situations now or in the future. I feel lucky to be associated with such an amazing organization.”

Tiffanie Hiibner
Huckleberry House Board Member and Supporter

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How do we solve youth homelessness?

“We have to integrate fundamental change in our systemic approach to a number of things like education, like poverty,” Huckleberry House’s executive director Becky Westerfelt told the audience attending a panel discussion, “The Unexpected Face of Homelessness: Teens on the Street,” hosted by the Columbus Metropolitan Club.

During the discussion, Becky challenged attendees to start thinking of youth homelessness as the community’s issue and asked everyone to get involved.

In an effort to continue the theme of broader community engagement, we are holding a small open house/lunch at the Huck House crisis shelter for people who may be interested in thinking about how people not in the “system” can support the work. The framing question will focus on how to make it easier for kids to access help and how we use community resources to address youth homelessness. Read more