Learn more about the issues facing the young people we serve.

The Impact of Homelessness on Achieving a High School Diploma

One of the greatest barriers to achieving a high school degree can be unstable housing and homelessness. According to the 2019 Building a Grad Nation Report, the national high school graduation rate for all students has increased from 71% in 2001 to nearly 85% in 2017. In comparison, only 78% of low-income students and 64% of homeless students graduated in 2017. This data highlights the impact homelessness has on obtaining high school and higher education, particularly the potential barriers that exceed those of poverty alone. Housing instability and homelessness increase the risk of exposure to violence, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and other traumatic experiences. Additionally, youth have reduced access to healthcare for physical health, mental health, and substance misuse treatments.

In order to empower homeless students to achieve their high school degree and seek higher education, the School House Connection suggests that we must prioritize identifying youth experiencing homelessness and provide support through increasing access to resources. By doing so, youth will have a greater chance to graduate, which will in turn prevent future homelessness, as having a high school degree or GED can reduce the risk of housing instability by 4.5 times. By supporting youth in continuing their education even through poverty and homelessness, we can strive to break the cycle.

IHOP and Conversation with Homeless Youth

By Leslie Scott, MSSA LSW CTP-C


Even though it’s uncomfortable, we need to talk about homelessness.” – Transitional Age Homeless Youth


In 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $6.1 million to the Community Shelter Board through the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program. Unlike previous programs that have under taken to end Transitional Age Youth Homelessness (youth ages 18 to 24 years old), this program has mandated youth be a part of the decision-making process, by deciding where the funds go, how they are spent, and how we improve Transitional Age Youth homeless services.


The Community Shelter Board (CSB) has since formed the Youth Action Board (YAB), which is a group of Transitional Age Youth who are or have experienced homelessness and are willing to give feedback on Franklin County homeless services. I took some of the youth from the  Youth Action Board to IHOP for breakfast and spoke with them, and I wanted to share what I learned. I cannot say enough about the strength, dedication, and endurance each of these individuals have. I hope you enjoy their interviews, as much as I did.


What is one thing you want someone who is not nor has never been homeless to understand about the homeless experience?

Destiny H: Even though it’s uncomfortable, we need to talk about homelessness. People need to know that there are 15-year-old girls who are homeless or being sex trafficked. If people know, they will do something about it.

ANYONMOUS YOUTH: When I first went into the shelter, my son was only 5 weeks only and everyone at the shelter would talk to me about my son, which made it easier. There was an instant bond. Young adults need extra support, guidance, and an example of stability.


What kept you and people you know in the homeless cycle?

Destiny H: Transitional Age Youth are not prepared for life after being homeless.  Youth need independent living skills, so they can have experience and know how to be adults after they have stable housing.

ANYONMOUS YOUTH: I was in foster care at 7 years old, then placed with relatives who were abusive. At 14 years old, I moved to Columbus, OH with my aunt. This taught me “if something goes wrong, I can get out” when I should have been thinking about building stability for myself. Almost like the “grass is greener”. I am grateful for my current housing, as my only other option was low income housing after I left the shelter. Low income housing is very poor quality and I didn’t want that for my child. Instead of thinking “beggars can’t be choosers” think about helping someone find a “higher chance of succeeding”.


If you had another word for homelessness what would it be?

Destiny H: ‘Homelessness’ is a terrible word. I would use ‘without housing’ or ‘struggling’. ‘Struggling’ is a good option, because it doesn’t identify what someone is experiencing, while communicating they need help.

ANYONMOUS YOUTH: For me, one situation I experience, isn’t my identity. I don’t identify as homeless. I would replace this word with “needing help” or “just trying to figure it out”. My life taught me that I needed to be “independent” and do things on my own, I am learning now that there is a balance to being independent.


What do we get right about homeless services?

Destiny H: “That we need help”

ANYONMOUS YOUTH: When I started the Transitional Living Program (TLP), I was given a packet that included all the information I needed. It was very helpful and made me feel like an adult, while also being supported.


What is missing from our current services that you need? Or needed?

Destiny H: When I was in the YWCA Family Shelter, I was pregnant and sick. Shelter rules require each person to leave during the day time, without exception, but one staff member noticed I was sick and went to management (without me asking) to advocate for my needs. He continued to check in on me, give me snacks, and ask me how I was. This made a big difference for me. We need more staff that are trained to identify our needs, be caring, and advocate for us. Advocating is very important.

ANYONMOUS YOUTH: In the shelter, I had great casework, but what I needed was someone helping me with “what should you do” rather than “what have you done.” Young Adults need help planning for the long-term and understanding how to succeed. Programs that focused on me meeting with staff to discuss what actions I had taken were not helpful, as I didn’t know how to start. I also like that TLP allows me to make my own decisions and treats me as an adult, but still helps me with guidance and advice on next steps. TLP is more than a roof to sleep under for me.


What are five things you would change about current homeless services?

Destiny H:

  • Allow pregnant homeless youth or parenting homeless parents to be eligible for child care, prior to finding employment or enrolling in school.
  • Have shelters and facilities specifically for Transitional Age Youth, as well as staff who are willing to go to the youth. Even if it’s unsafe.
  • Have access to services in the shelters, such as job training, job linkage, and more.
  • We need to find better ways to assess a youth’s needs, then have staff to help them with those needs. Everyone needs to be treated the same way.
  • If a youth has family or friends who can provide housing, offer the youth transportation assistance to get to their family or friends.


  • In the shelter, having to plan where to be each day makes it difficult to address needs and think with a clear head. I would change this rule.
  • Programs unconsciously reinforce survival instincts and need to focus on changing those instincts.


What was most helpful to you going through Huckleberry House program(s)?

Destiny H: The staff I have worked with are helpful, they care, and I immediately felt I could trust them. At other agencies for Transitional Age Youth, I like that there is chaos with boundaries. We can make our own decisions, able to roam, have access to a gym, access to laundry, and are safe. We don’t have to worry about our stuff being stolen or not sleeping at night or worse. Transitional Age Youth want boundaries, safety, and nonjudgmental interactions with other people.

ANYONMOUS YOUTH:  TLP “gives you room to breathe.” Staff also know and are accepting of when you fall off the wagon.


What else do you want people to know about your experience being homeless?

Destiny H: I have felt different and questioned the “system” since I was young. When I was diagnosed with ADHD/ADD, I was excluded from traditional classrooms and my peers at school started to bully me. Now, I am trying to make it on my own without any government assistance, after being homeless. When you have been homeless, you have to live differently and moving into housing is hard. I used to wake up in the middle of the night, in my new apartment, worrying someone would steal my stuff. Then I remembered where I was, but I was already having a panic attack.

ANYONMOUS YOUTH: I want people to understand that homeless persons or persons using welfare aren’t a stereotype of abusing the system, but people trying to get on their feet with no support. When your family isn’t there to support you, the system becomes your support. “We’re just people.”  I want someone experiencing homelessness to know you don’t need to be embarrassed.

Understanding the Scope of Youth Homelessness in America – National Network for Youth

Scope of Youth Homelessness in America

Written by |March 11, 2019

Recent Poll Reveals Disparity Between Wanting to Help Homeless Youths and Understanding the Scope of Youth Homelessness in America

The National Network for Youth believes in the importance of tapping into key data that will help drive the mission to end youth homelessness forward. This past February, we partnered with Ipsos, a global market research and consulting firm, to poll 1,005 adults above the age of 18 on youth homelessness issues.

Ninety-one percent of polled Americans believe dealing with the problem of youth homeless is important. Eighty-eight percent agreed the success of young Americans has a direct impact on the success of their communities. While most participants agreed youth homelessness should be addressed, many did not understand the full size and scope of the issue.

The poll asked Americans how many of the 35 million young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 in the United States they believe experience homelessness in a given year. Twenty-six percent responded “Don’t Know” and 23 percent believed that less than 2 million young adults experience homelessness. However, of the 35 million young adults in the United States, around 3.5 million young adults (or 10%) experience some form of homelessness in a given year.

Twenty-six percent of participants also answered “Don’t Know” to how many of the 21 million Americans youths between the ages 13 and 17 experience homelessness in a year. Twenty-four percent responded correctly that between 500,000 and 1 million youths experience homelessness.

Ipsos Support Government FundingFurther questions overwhelmingly revealed that approximately 80 percent of those polled believe the federal and state governments should prioritize reducing youth homelessness. About 80 percent also agreed that federal and state governments should prioritizing the funding for programs that help young homeless people finish high school and find a job.

Over three quarters (79 percent) of polled Americans agreed that young people who can find food and shelter by couch surfing should still be allowed to use public services providing food and shelter.

Though Americans have expressed concern and the desire for the government to address youth who experience homelessness, current federal definitions of youth homelessness are limited.

Of the eight definitions of homelessness used by federal agencies and programs, all but one use criteria that are appropriate for and reflective of the experiences of young people experiencing homeless. Those programs are ones administered by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Justice and Agriculture. These definitions focus on the safety of the youth’s living situation, rather than its location or duration.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) uses a more narrow definition that focuses on the way single adults, not youth or families, experience homelessness. This definition is also used by the federal government to inform the total number of young people considered to be homeless. Many youth stay temporarily with others or in motels rather than sleeping on the street. HUD’s current definition of homelessness deems these youth to be “at lower risk” and therefore not considered to be a priority.

Ipsos 91% ImportantThis restrictive definition of homelessness and youth homelessness results in undercounting the number of youths who are homeless, and influences the perceived prevalence of homelessness. When definitions and prioritizations based on definitions are limited, we lose the opportunity to prevent youth who may be facing homelessness for the first time from becoming the next generation of chronically homeless adults.

Last year Congress considered, and advanced out of committee, the Homeless Children and Youth Act, which would ensure that anyone considered homeless by any federal program is eligible to be assessed for HUD services, and ensures that HUD’s assessment of the number of homeless individuals reflect all forms of homelessness. Congress has continued to support funding for a wide range of programs to prevent and respond to young and young adult homelessness, but more resources are needed to address the scope of the challenge.


The National Network for Youth has been a public education and policy advocacy organization dedicated to the prevention and eradication of youth homelessness in America. NN4Y mobilizes over 300 members and affiliates –organizations that work on the front lines every day to provide prevention services and respond to runaways and youth experiencing homelessness and human trafficking.

Youth Outreach Program Spotlight – Kyra Crockett Hodge

YOP Infographic 1024x800

1. What is the purpose of the Youth Outreach Program?

The purpose of YOP is to help young people who are disconnected and struggling with obstacles that are keeping them from achieving their personal goals to become self-sufficient.

2. What’s up at the YOP Shop?

The YOP SHOP is a resource hub located at 893 East 11th Avenue. Young people can walk in or call Monday – Friday between the hours of 10:00 am and 6:00 pm. There are five Outreach Specialists there that truly want to see young people succeed. Young people can come in and receive help coming up with a strategy to address whatever issues they are experiencing that have become obstacles for them moving forward with their lives. Basic needs items can also be obtained at shop such as hygiene items or snack items. The main thing I think people walk away with from the Huck House YOP SHOP is a feeling that someone cares about what they have been through and where they will end up.

3. What are the top three things the youth you meet with need?

The majority of young people that YOP encounters are trying to figure out life on their own and need help to know where to start or how to get back on track. Most young people are struggling with housing issues, lack of financial stability and help navigating the adult systems that they have little to no experience with.


Currently there are a lot of young people who we as a system know are experiencing homelessness but for several reasons do not access adult shelter services.  When this happens, our system lacks the ability to properly account for the number of actual kids that are homeless and it provides barriers for these young people to be eligible for housing options that may be available through the adult system. Maryhaven Outreach Team was solely responsible for certifying all of Franklin County for any homeless person (adult or youth) for years.  Recently, the Youth Outreach Team has been certified to verify homelessness for transitional aged youth and will hopefully be able to contribute to the bigger systems issue of not being able to provide available resources to young people who are literally homeless.


Critical Need Alert – A Message from Becky Westerfelt

A message from executive director – Becky Westerfelt

In Central Ohio, we are fortunate to have the leadership of The Columbus Foundation when it comes to research and resources to address the critical needs of our community. Over the past several months, I have worked with representatives of the Columbus Foundation and other youth serving organizations to find meaningful strategies to help homeless youth and improve early childhood education.

Today, the Columbus Foundation announced a Critical Need Alert. The goal is to raise $1.5 million for “Our Kids” in 45 days to benefit the work of Huck House and five other organizations.

How will Huckleberry House use resources generated by The Columbus Foundation over the next six weeks?

Many youth in our community are unstably housed; they are couch surfing, moving among family members until they are 18, or generally don’t know where they will sleep night to night.  Huckleberry House will expand options for those youth. We will invest in our work to identify young people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness to link them with housing provided by Huckleberry House and other community agencies. Some youth who are successful in independent living could easily fall behind without support. We will help those young people reduce the risk of future homelessness with a few months of rent and light case support.

The spirit of “Our Kids” demands that we invest in all the children in our community. Thank you for your continued support of our important work.


Homeless Children and Youth Act takes a step closer to becoming law

On July 24, House Bill 1511 passed the Financial Services Committee. It is co-sponsored by Representatives Steve Stivers of Ohio and Dave Loebsack of Iowa. H.R. 1511 would broaden the definition of homelessness, making it easier for organizations like Huckleberry House to serve homeless youth.

“Last year, I was proud to announce the reintroduction of my bill that will more accurately count homeless youth in our communities – including many of those served by the Huckleberry House – an incredible organization who helps youth in Central Ohio who are facing homelessness, abuse, neglect, poverty, and many other issues,” Stivers said this week. “I am excited that this bill has taken one step closer to becoming law by passing the House Financial Services Committee. I will continue working to get this bill signed into law so we can better identify the scope of the youth homelessness, and ultimately dedicate more resources to addressing the issue.”

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In support of families

Screen Shot 2018-06-22 at 8.15.04 AMThe following letter was submitted to the Columbus Dispatch earlier this week. While policy has been reversed, the message is still relevant and significant.

Dear Editor,

For the past 15 years, I have been the Executive Director of Huckleberry House.  Huckleberry House provides services including shelter and transitional living housing to homeless and runaway youth.  During my time here I have learned this about children in shelters:  no matter how great your shelter is, and Huck House is a great shelter, children want and need their families.

In every other aspect of our country’s policies and values, we affirm that families are the best way to care for children.  We do this because we know that children need the love, guidance and support of committed adults if they are to thrive as adults.  We also know that when a family can’t care for their children, the best second option is a foster family.  Yes, it is true that families aren’t always perfect, but they are the best option for raising children.

We must remain vigilant in upholding a commitment to families.

If we think there will be no lingering affects to these children, we are lying to ourselves. Even a cursory review of research and training for foster and adoption programs reveals that we know a great deal about what happens to children in both the short and long run.  We know that the grief is deep and profound, we know that separation can affect the cognitive and social development of children, and we know that childhood trauma leads to chronic health issues. If you want to read about this for yourself, you can go to the Federal Department of Health and Human Services webpage.

So, please score your political points without harming these children.  Caring for and raising children is a privilege.  We used to know that.


Becky Westerfelt

Executive Director, Huckleberry House

How does LGBTQ+ affect homeless youth?

By Leslie Scott, LSW

FINAL PRIDE Blog for 61118

With a little help from our friends…

Each year, Huck House is invited by See Kids Dream to help teach young students about how they can make the world a better place. Guess what happens. Yep! These young students go out and make the world a better place! This year, the students at Ohio Avenue Elementary School, with help from their advisers from Crimson Cup Coffee, created this awesome video to spread awareness about Huck House.


Ohio Avenue Elementary School was featured on the news (click here to watch) for the help they are giving to Huck House. On an equally inspirational, and more serious, note, their school was the topic of an article in The Atlantic last month: “One Ohio School’s Quest to Rethink Bad Behavior.”

Thank you to the See Kids Dream Club at Ohio Avenue Elementary School for making the world a better place.


100 Day Challenge to End Youth Homelessness

Last summer and fall, Huckleberry House and six other Columbus agencies participated in A Way Home America’s 100-Day Challenge. The 100-Day Challenge is a project designed to stimulate intense collaboration, innovation, and execution, all in pursuit of a wildly ambitious 100-day goal.

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