From Graduate to Homeless: After aging out of school or foster care, many young people face life on the streets

Bernardojbpgoes with Homeless story
Bernardojbpgoes with Homeless story

Whether it’s hanging a decorative painting on the wall, arranging a vase of spring tulips on the kitchen table or simply placing a welcome sign on the front door, these trademark aspects of having a place to call home are often taken for granted.

This fall, a handful of local young adults will finally get the chance to hang their own “Welcome Home” sign for the first time.

The Hampshire County Friends of the Homeless, in collaboration with DIAL/SELF Youth and Community Services, has purchased housing in Northampton to give six to eight local homeless young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 a place to live.

The service is desperately needed in particular, said DIAL/SELF Executive Director Phillip Ringwood, for people who age out of the foster care system at age 18, as well as young adults who don’t have the support of a guardian or parent. The nonprofits are seeking to raise $750,000, through fund drives and grants from sources such as the Community Preservation Act, to renovate the homes and provide services to residents.

“What would surprise a lot of people is that many kids are left homeless when they age out of the foster care system, and over recent years we have seen a large majority of LGBT kids displaced or homeless due to lack of family support,” he said.

DIAL/SELF, a Greenfield youth empowerment nonprofit agency, has been housing displaced and homeless teens for more than 40 years. Ringwood said the epidemic is growing and the influx of young people “couch surfing” and ending up on the streets is due to a variety of factors.

“It could be substance abuse issues, mental illness or simply exiting out of a broken or unstable home,” he said.

According to a 2014 Housing and Urban Development study, 34 percent of the total U.S. homeless population was under the age of 24. The Department of Justice estimates that number has risen from 1.6 million to 1.7 million people in 2015. In Massachusetts alone, almost 5,000 students within the public school system are living on the streets or in shelters.

Ringwood said he is excited to partner with Hampshire County Friends of the Homeless on this greatly needed project.

“We know they have raised funds to house other disenfranchised populations in the past and we are glad that they are focusing on the youth homeless epidemic this year,” he said.

Friends of the Homeless raised money to buy two Northampton homes over the past few years: one for people suffering with mental illness and another for recovering addicts. President Rick Hart said this year Friends of the Homeless set their sights on the youth homeless population because people are increasingly coming face to face with the problem on the city’s streets.

“I see it all over the city and the goal of this project is to hopefully help combat this problem,” he said.

In 2015, Hampshire County shelters documented 52 homeless youth among their population. Ringwood said that the youth demographic is the hardest to house.

“It’s difficult because these young adults are typically without rental histories, have higher rates of school drop-out, and have limited job skills,” he said. “Additionally, many have insufficient life skills to successfully maintain health, housing, and employment stability without flexibly intensive supports.”

The housing units, made up of a few one- and two-bedroom apartments, will be purchased by Friends of the Homeless in the fall before being turned over to DIAL/SELF.

“This will be part of our permanent supportive housing program” Ringwood said. “Once [Friends of the Homeless] turns over the deed to us, we will begin the process of choosing applicants.”

After the applicants have been chosen, Ringwood said they will provide a variety of support services to help give the young adults some stability and get them back on their feet.

“We have caseworkers who will provide therapy,” he said. “In addition, they will work with the kids to devise a budget plan for rent and also develop a general contract on educational and career goals.”

The young adults will remain in the program for one to two years before transitioning into other group home facilities or venturing out on their own.

Ringwood said that although they are just in the infancy of this campaign, he is excited about the future.

“This project will get six to eight homeless kids the help they need,” he explained. “It’s a small number but hopefully we can keep increasing it.”

Author: Maureen Gazda

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