Huck House Youth Outreach Program: Helping Young People Gain Access to Housing

Our five-member youth outreach team has added to the list of ways they can help young people. They were recently authorized by the Community Shelter Board to certify homelessness. Without this certification, young people have a hard time accessing alternative housing such as rapid re-housing or permanent supportive housing. Usually,  individuals must stay in an adult homeless shelter in order to be added to the list for housing options.

According to YOP manager Kyra Crockett-Hodge, many young people experiencing homelessness prefer not to go to adult shelters for many reasons: they prefer to be with their peers, they are afraid of theft, and they generally feel vulnerable in adult shelters.

Knowing that many young people do not use adult shelters, the Huck House YOP team offers a different entry point for accessing housing.

“We know that young people are more likely to accept guidance and help from people they trust,” said Rebecca Westerfelt, Huck House’s executive director. “One of the strengths of our YOP team is that they build relationships with youth going through difficult times and can offer appropriate help.”

Youth Outreach Program Spotlight – Kyra Crockett Hodge

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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.

 

Jacob’s Story | By: Kyra Crockett-Hodge

Jacob was hanging out at a local library when he came across my business card, which I left a stack of in the foyer. Jacob called the YOP SHOP and told me his story and that he needed help finding housing.  He asked if he could come to the YOP SHOP to meet me to share more of his story.  Jacob is 18 years old, tall and lanky, and when he showed up, his huge, child-like smile greeted me as soon as he walked through the door. We sat down and he continued to tell me how he came to his current circumstances.

Jacob was only 15 when he lost his mother due to cancer. With no next to kin, only smaller siblings in tow, FCCS sent him to West Virginia, where his biological father lived, but with whom he had no relationship with. With the partnership of his grief from losing his beloved mother and anger for his father not being there, his relationship with his dad struggled. Jacob ended up in foster care in West Virginia, where he saved up his money for a Greyhound bus back to Columbus the minute he turned 18. He hoped to return to Ohio to find his younger siblings and a sense of normalcy.

Jacob was determined to defy the odds and enrolled himself in school. At school, he met some friends who told him about an abandoned apartment building in their neighborhood.  This apartment became Jacob’s living arrangement. He spoke of hiding his things in a closet, using materials as a pallet and praying that contractors didn’t come in and find him night to night. To make his situation even worse, one-day Jacob was leaving a friend’s house and was shot in the hip. He was shot just because he was not known in the neighborhood. Because Jacob didn’t have insurance or any adult to seek guidance from, Jacob hobbled around town for a week until we, at Huck House, saw him and made him go to the hospital.

At Huck House, we linked Jacob to services such as counseling to deal with his grief, healthcare, food benefits and bus passes to get to and from appointments, but he never could land on both his feet. I spent many hours with Jacob and worried extensively about what his time unsupervised would bring him. Unfortunately, there were times when Jacob stole from grocery stores to eat and got caught, which resulted in going in and out of court for misdemeanors. With misdemeanors and court, comes fines, more cases and probation, which makes it increasingly difficult to maintain a decent job and any hope for the future.

Jacob has been robbed and beat up several times and because of his transient lifestyle, there were often weeks that I didn’t hear from him, with no phone and no address to consistently locate him at. Upon waiting for his name to come up on the many waitlists for housing that he was on, Jacob met a woman, with whom he had a child and is now trying to figure out how to end the cycle for his son. Jacob has been working full time consistently for about 4 months now and decided to finally go into an adult shelter to seek assistance for his new family. Homelessness is real and the many facets that come along with it are even more real.  Because of their situations, they are subjected to vulnerabilities most wouldn’t know how to handle. As a society, we failed Jacob and must prevent young people from continuing to fall through the cracks.

 

Written by Kyra Crockett-Hodge, Youth Outreach Program Team Leader

 

Note: Name has been changed for the sake of privacy.

Youth Homelessness | By: Kyra Crockett

Photo by Matt Hatcher, a photojournalist whose work can be found at www.mhatcherphotography.com/homelessness/

Imagine being somewhere (like school, work, community center or a library) and not knowing where you are going next when it is time for those doors to close. Imagine riding the COTA bus for hours just to use up some of your idle time. Imagine having no consistent support system to lean on when things are scary, unsafe or unknown. Maybe today a friend’s parents fell asleep early so you could sneak in their basement for a while. Two nights ago you were sleeping in a tent campsite along the railroad tracks. The night before that, you were in the Grant Hospital ER hoping to blend in so you can sleep. Night to night, the scene changes with only one consistency — nowhere to call home.

Unfortunately, hundreds of homeless youth experience homelessness right here in Columbus, Ohio. Families who are exactly like people you know experience situations that push them into crisis for a period of time. Some families can work through it and eventually move on from it. Other families struggle to the point of a teen running away, parents kicking kids out or parents leaving their children behind when they move on. Homelessness is something no one should have to experience, let alone a youth.

Although there are many facets that play into the WHY, our efforts need to address PREVENTING IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. For those that are already there, how do we ensure their safety and rebuild their spirits?

Whether we blame the lack of housing options for young people or we blame the kids for being disrespectful or we point our fingers at the parents for not caring enough…it doesn’t change the fact that this goes on daily. The costs to our community, our families and our children are too great to ignore.

Talk to the kids in your lives! Make sure they have someone in their life (even if it’s not you) that they feel comfortable talking to about tough topics. And, as parents IT’S OK TO ASK FOR HELP AS WELL! None of us are perfect, so let’s stop acting as so!

-Kyra Crockett, Youth Outreach Program Manager