Illinois' Unbeknownst New Homeless Student Law: 20 School Districts Spending $800,000 Transporting Students To School Of Origin, New Law Allows Leveraging Transportation Funds To Pay For Housing

Last summer, Chantil was forced to leave the townhome she shared with her two daughters and her mother in Des Plaines. (We’re withholding Chantil’s last name to protect her family’s privacy.) Her landlord wanted to sell the building, and Chantil had only about a month to find a new home. Landlords, however, kept turning her down because of her credit, and her income. Chantil makes $12 an hour at a department store.   https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/illinois-law-aims-help-homeless-students-it-enough#stream/0   Moving day came, and Chantil still hadn’t found a place. So she moved her family into a hotel. It was one of several they lived in for the next two and a half months.  “Living in the hotels was something I wouldn’t wish on anybody, like if I can help somebody, I would. I would open my home to anybody that’s living in hotels because that’s a stressful event.”  During that two-and-half month period, Chantil’s eldest daughter was one of the more than 50,000 homeless Kindergarten through 12th grade students in Illinois, according to data from the Illinois Department of Education. Homelessness, as defined by school districts and the U.S. Department of Education, means a student lacks “a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime abode.”  That leaves out the vast majority of the state — and country’s — homeless youth who live “doubled-up” with another family member or friend. A much smaller portion of Illinois’ homeless students wind up in Chantil’s situation — living in hotels or motels.  But Chantil and her family were lifted out of homelessness thanks to a little know state law passed in 2017.  The law allows Illinois school districts to use a portion of their transportation funding to help homeless families, and those at risk of becoming homeless, pay for a place to live. So far Chantil and one other parent are the only two families to have benefited from the law, according to Tom Bookler, a homeless education liaison for dozens of school districts in northern Cook County.  The state law builds off federal requirements for school districts, which are laid out in a federal statute dubbed the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act.  That federal law requires school districts to pay for the transportation of homeless students from their temporary residence — whether that’s a hotel, shelter or relative’s house — to the school they attended before they lost their housing. Bookler said he surveyed school districts in his region and discovered that about 20 were collectively paying roughly $800,000 per year to ferry homeless students back and forth between their school and temporary living situation. He said he thought it would be cheaper in certain circumstances if schools could offer temporary financial assistance to keep or get families back into housing.  East Maine District 63 Associate Superintendent Shawn Schleizer said it made more sense for the district to pay about $1,500 so that Chantil’s family could become housed again than to keep paying for taxi cabs for her daughter to get back and forth from the hotel to school. The money from the school district covered most of her first month’s rent.  Saving money isn’t the only reason the school wanted to take advantage of the relatively new law, Schleizer said.  “Having an unstable situation as a child, and specifically around housing, significantly compromises a child’s ability to receive a quality education,” he said. “So (the law) saves the district money and in the end it saves all Illinoisans money. Everyone wins, especially the kids.”  Research shows that homeless children are 87 percent more likely to drop out of school, while those who drop out of high school are four-and-a-half times more likely to become homeless as adults.  ‘A lack of affordable housing’  Living four people to a single hotel room with no kitchen put Chantil’s family under both financial and emotional stress. The majority of her earnings went to pay for the room and food from restaurants because they lacked a place to cook, she said. It was also tough on her children. There was no place for the youngest daughter to play, and her 13-year-old also suffered, she said.  “There were times where she would want one of her friends to come over and I’m like look you can’t have anybody here. You know we’re in a hotel,” Chantil said. “I don’t deny my kids anything. So for me to deny her, it was heartbreaking.”  When they first moved into a hotel last summer, Chantil drove her oldest daughter to school. She said she packed their car with all of their belongings because she was never sure where they’d be staying that night. That’s how her daughter’s principal discovered they were homeless.  “He saw all of my things in the car and he just he spazzed out, he never saw me that way before. He was like ‘What’s going on? Talk to me, open up,’” she said.  Chantil had previously been hesitant to share the family’s housing circumstances with school staff out of a fear her children would be taken away. Instead, when she did open up, the school helped pay for her first month’s rent in her new home. School staff also connected her to a social service agency that provided additional support services and connected her family with the local food pantry.  Chantil said her children are much happier now that they have their own bedrooms and a place to play outside.  “They were so ecstatic,” she said. “Their whole attitude changed.”  While thousands of families in Illinois experience homelessness every year, only a fraction of them can benefit from the law that helped Chantil’s family.  Schleizer and Bookler say school districts can only offer temporary financial assistance. That means parents must be employed and in need of only short-term monetary boost to get back on their feet. Schleizer said the district is also only able to help if the cost of transporting the student exceeds the cost of the financial assistance they’d need to become housed. There are other homeless families living within the school district boundaries that won’t receive any assistance under this law, he said.  The bigger problem, Bookler said is, “We just have a lack of affordable housing.”  For Chantil’s family, the law has offered a solution — albeit a tenuous one. She said the rent on her new home — $1,800 per month — is far from affordable.  “I can’t really afford the amount of rent that’s here, but I work hard enough every day,” Chantil said. “And I know that, at any point, if I fall behind, the school told me that they they’re here for me.”  Compounding that issue, Chantil’s family wouldn’t have qualified for housing assistance under the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness, said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a national nonprofit that works to end homelessness through education. She points to the fact that HUD doesn’t count families living in hotels or living “doubled up” with relatives and friends as homeless.  Duffield said too few resources are targeted at homeless families, largely because they’re not visible to the general public. While the Illinois law may help some families, Duffield said, “This isn’t addressing the root cause, and it’s not a systemic solution.”

Last summer, Chantil was forced to leave the townhome she shared with her two daughters and her mother in Des Plaines. (We’re withholding Chantil’s last name to protect her family’s privacy.) Her landlord wanted to sell the building, and Chantil had only about a month to find a new home. Landlords, however, kept turning her down because of her credit, and her income. Chantil makes $12 an hour at a department store.

https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/illinois-law-aims-help-homeless-students-it-enough#stream/0

Moving day came, and Chantil still hadn’t found a place. So she moved her family into a hotel. It was one of several they lived in for the next two and a half months.

“Living in the hotels was something I wouldn’t wish on anybody, like if I can help somebody, I would. I would open my home to anybody that’s living in hotels because that’s a stressful event.”

During that two-and-half month period, Chantil’s eldest daughter was one of the more than 50,000 homeless Kindergarten through 12th grade students in Illinois, according to data from the Illinois Department of Education. Homelessness, as defined by school districts and the U.S. Department of Education, means a student lacks “a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime abode.”

That leaves out the vast majority of the state — and country’s — homeless youth who live “doubled-up” with another family member or friend. A much smaller portion of Illinois’ homeless students wind up in Chantil’s situation — living in hotels or motels.

But Chantil and her family were lifted out of homelessness thanks to a little know state law passed in 2017.

The law allows Illinois school districts to use a portion of their transportation funding to help homeless families, and those at risk of becoming homeless, pay for a place to live. So far Chantil and one other parent are the only two families to have benefited from the law, according to Tom Bookler, a homeless education liaison for dozens of school districts in northern Cook County.

The state law builds off federal requirements for school districts, which are laid out in a federal statute dubbed the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act.

That federal law requires school districts to pay for the transportation of homeless students from their temporary residence — whether that’s a hotel, shelter or relative’s house — to the school they attended before they lost their housing. Bookler said he surveyed school districts in his region and discovered that about 20 were collectively paying roughly $800,000 per year to ferry homeless students back and forth between their school and temporary living situation. He said he thought it would be cheaper in certain circumstances if schools could offer temporary financial assistance to keep or get families back into housing.

East Maine District 63 Associate Superintendent Shawn Schleizer said it made more sense for the district to pay about $1,500 so that Chantil’s family could become housed again than to keep paying for taxi cabs for her daughter to get back and forth from the hotel to school. The money from the school district covered most of her first month’s rent.

Saving money isn’t the only reason the school wanted to take advantage of the relatively new law, Schleizer said.

“Having an unstable situation as a child, and specifically around housing, significantly compromises a child’s ability to receive a quality education,” he said. “So (the law) saves the district money and in the end it saves all Illinoisans money. Everyone wins, especially the kids.”

Research shows that homeless children are 87 percent more likely to drop out of school, while those who drop out of high school are four-and-a-half times more likely to become homeless as adults.

‘A lack of affordable housing’

Living four people to a single hotel room with no kitchen put Chantil’s family under both financial and emotional stress. The majority of her earnings went to pay for the room and food from restaurants because they lacked a place to cook, she said. It was also tough on her children. There was no place for the youngest daughter to play, and her 13-year-old also suffered, she said.

“There were times where she would want one of her friends to come over and I’m like look you can’t have anybody here. You know we’re in a hotel,” Chantil said. “I don’t deny my kids anything. So for me to deny her, it was heartbreaking.”

When they first moved into a hotel last summer, Chantil drove her oldest daughter to school. She said she packed their car with all of their belongings because she was never sure where they’d be staying that night. That’s how her daughter’s principal discovered they were homeless.

“He saw all of my things in the car and he just he spazzed out, he never saw me that way before. He was like ‘What’s going on? Talk to me, open up,’” she said.

Chantil had previously been hesitant to share the family’s housing circumstances with school staff out of a fear her children would be taken away. Instead, when she did open up, the school helped pay for her first month’s rent in her new home. School staff also connected her to a social service agency that provided additional support services and connected her family with the local food pantry.

Chantil said her children are much happier now that they have their own bedrooms and a place to play outside.

“They were so ecstatic,” she said. “Their whole attitude changed.”

While thousands of families in Illinois experience homelessness every year, only a fraction of them can benefit from the law that helped Chantil’s family.

Schleizer and Bookler say school districts can only offer temporary financial assistance. That means parents must be employed and in need of only short-term monetary boost to get back on their feet. Schleizer said the district is also only able to help if the cost of transporting the student exceeds the cost of the financial assistance they’d need to become housed. There are other homeless families living within the school district boundaries that won’t receive any assistance under this law, he said.

The bigger problem, Bookler said is, “We just have a lack of affordable housing.”

For Chantil’s family, the law has offered a solution — albeit a tenuous one. She said the rent on her new home — $1,800 per month — is far from affordable.

“I can’t really afford the amount of rent that’s here, but I work hard enough every day,” Chantil said. “And I know that, at any point, if I fall behind, the school told me that they they’re here for me.”

Compounding that issue, Chantil’s family wouldn’t have qualified for housing assistance under the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness, said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a national nonprofit that works to end homelessness through education. She points to the fact that HUD doesn’t count families living in hotels or living “doubled up” with relatives and friends as homeless.

Duffield said too few resources are targeted at homeless families, largely because they’re not visible to the general public. While the Illinois law may help some families, Duffield said, “This isn’t addressing the root cause, and it’s not a systemic solution.”

Charleston (SC) Nonprofit's Homeless Youth Data Report: $165,000 Federal Award On The Table, 500 Care Packages Provided To Youth, 62 Interviews Completed With 125 Volunteers, LGBTQ Youth Training

The young man was 18, maybe 19, when Bob Kahle came upon him last year in Charleston’s Marion Square.   https://www.postandcourier.com/news/charleston-is-a-destination-city-for-homeless-youth-new-report/article_798dadea-4120-11e9-b85c-af464bd744e8.html   He offered him a drawstring bag filled with food. The youth opened the bag, pulled out a Chef Boyardee canister, and used his fingers to scoop out the pasta and eat it. He quickly moved on to the remaining milk, cereal, fruit and vegetables.  “By the time I was done there, he’d consumed it all,” Kahle said.  Homelessness is a reality for at least 125 young people in Charleston County, according to an estimate from a new report by the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities at the College of Charleston.  Kahle, the center’s director of research and planning, was the principal investigator on this project, which included interviews with 62 youths and involved about 135 volunteers. More than 500 care packages, filled with food and toiletries were handed out to youth across the county.  The goal was to get a better sense of the county’s youth homeless population and better inform leaders and community organizations about the needs of the homeless under the age of 25.  “Charleston is a destination city, not just for tourists,” Kahle told community leaders Friday morning. “It is a destination city for young people experiencing homelessness.”  These youth often stay with friends, in streets, parks or abandoned buildings. Some stay in hotels or motels.  The project didn’t just focus on their living situations. Most of the youths interviewed struggled to get enough to eat. Others had experienced sexual trauma or other violence. Many were LGBTQ, a higher percentage than in the state youth population, the report found.  “We have to ask ourselves, why is it we have so many LGBTQ kids on the street?” Kahle said.  Locally, there are efforts to help all homeless youth:  A federal grant of $165,000 will allow for more services.  The Charleston Police Department recently started training officers on the city’s hate crime ordinance and how to better interact with LGBTQ people.  A screening tool will be added to the county jail to take a proactive approach to identify human trafficking victims.  But hurdles remain: South Carolina is tied with Alabama as the worst state in the country when it comes to working to end youth homelessness, according to a report released last year by the True Colors Fund and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.  Amy Wilson, chief compliance officer for One80 Place, a nonprofit that has a shelter on Walnut Street in Charleston, said state government isn’t doing much to help.  “There is no dedicated source of funding for the issue at the state, the county or the local level that is specific to homeless services. You will be hard pressed to find another state where that’s the case,” she said Friday. “So for those of us doing this work, it’s an uphill battle almost sort of at the get-go.”

The young man was 18, maybe 19, when Bob Kahle came upon him last year in Charleston’s Marion Square.

https://www.postandcourier.com/news/charleston-is-a-destination-city-for-homeless-youth-new-report/article_798dadea-4120-11e9-b85c-af464bd744e8.html

He offered him a drawstring bag filled with food. The youth opened the bag, pulled out a Chef Boyardee canister, and used his fingers to scoop out the pasta and eat it. He quickly moved on to the remaining milk, cereal, fruit and vegetables.

“By the time I was done there, he’d consumed it all,” Kahle said.

Homelessness is a reality for at least 125 young people in Charleston County, according to an estimate from a new report by the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities at the College of Charleston.

Kahle, the center’s director of research and planning, was the principal investigator on this project, which included interviews with 62 youths and involved about 135 volunteers. More than 500 care packages, filled with food and toiletries were handed out to youth across the county.

The goal was to get a better sense of the county’s youth homeless population and better inform leaders and community organizations about the needs of the homeless under the age of 25.

“Charleston is a destination city, not just for tourists,” Kahle told community leaders Friday morning. “It is a destination city for young people experiencing homelessness.”

These youth often stay with friends, in streets, parks or abandoned buildings. Some stay in hotels or motels.

The project didn’t just focus on their living situations. Most of the youths interviewed struggled to get enough to eat. Others had experienced sexual trauma or other violence. Many were LGBTQ, a higher percentage than in the state youth population, the report found.

“We have to ask ourselves, why is it we have so many LGBTQ kids on the street?” Kahle said.

Locally, there are efforts to help all homeless youth:

A federal grant of $165,000 will allow for more services.

The Charleston Police Department recently started training officers on the city’s hate crime ordinance and how to better interact with LGBTQ people.

A screening tool will be added to the county jail to take a proactive approach to identify human trafficking victims.

But hurdles remain: South Carolina is tied with Alabama as the worst state in the country when it comes to working to end youth homelessness, according to a report released last year by the True Colors Fund and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Amy Wilson, chief compliance officer for One80 Place, a nonprofit that has a shelter on Walnut Street in Charleston, said state government isn’t doing much to help.

“There is no dedicated source of funding for the issue at the state, the county or the local level that is specific to homeless services. You will be hard pressed to find another state where that’s the case,” she said Friday. “So for those of us doing this work, it’s an uphill battle almost sort of at the get-go.”

Kansas City (MO) Nonprofit's Homeless Youth Capital Campaign: $6 Million Navigation Center & Housing Project, Anonymous Community Member Purchases & Donates 37-Acre Piece Of Land

A Kansas City organization helping homeless and at-risk youth said the need is increasing.   https://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/new-6-million-housing-center-for-homeless-teens-in-the-works   HALO (Helping Art Liberate Orphans) recently started a big effort to help get a roof over more kids' heads. The organization is launching a $6 million project to build a new learning center and housing that can accommodate 24 boys and 24 girls.  Madison, a budding artist with big dreams, was at ReStart's youth homeless shelter when she was introduced to HALO a couple of years ago.  "Honestly, I can say I don't regret any of it because I wouldn't be the person I am now and I wouldn't have the mentality I have now," said Madison, who declined to give her last name.  Madison, 20, said that life at home "was negative for me," and she went from couch to couch, like many homeless teens do.  "Every day it was like a 'okay-where-am-I-going-to-sleep-tonight' type of thing. And I think that's the worst feeling to have," Madison said.  Her safe place is at HALO's learning center, which uses an art-based approach to help kids through whatever troubles they're facing.  "That is my venting. Every piece of work I create shows my past, my present and, what I like to say, my future, hopefully," Madison said.  Madison also has a safe place to rest her head through HALO's pilot housing program. She is one of two girls who live in an apartment.  "The biggest need that we've identified is for kids who are unattached, who don't have a family member who can take care of them, who are not able to go to a family shelter. These are kids who are 16 to 21 years old who need a place to live and stay and thrive," said Rebecca Welsh, the founder of HALO.  HALO helps 700 children every year through partnerships with other organizations to provide wrap-around services.  There are approximately 6,000 at-risk and homeless youth in Kansas City.  A donor, whom Welsh did not want to reveal yet, purchased and donated a 37-acre piece of land for the site on a hill off Blue Parkway and 52nd Terrace, near Interstate 435. It's tucked away in an area where there aren't many neighbors.  In HALO's housing program in Jefferson City, Welsh said they've noticed success because it is also in a secluded area, away from negative influences.  "They aren't constantly bombarded with people who've been in their past who are addicted to drugs, even family members," Welsh said.  HALO is early in the process and is currently focused on fundraising for the project. The organization is looking at construction companies and pursuing tax credits, grants, corporate sponsorships, foundation gifts and income sources to make the project a reality.  Welsh said there will be a curfew and 24-hour security at the facility. At the Jefferson City girls' home, Welsh says there are two "house moms" who live on-site.  HALO's programs focus on helping youth in their education and career goals and directing them to therapy resources. Welsh said sometimes it's teaching kids basic things like how to function in society.  "When they don't have the support of family during that critical time, it can be extremely difficult for them to have success in their life and to break whatever cycle they've been through," Welsh said.  HALO said it gets 15 to 20 calls a month from kids needing a place to stay immediately.  Madison said people don't want to think about youth homelessness and expect them to be on a street corner somewhere. She said it's important for people to remember that most kids, like her, don't want to admit they're homeless and have a hard time asking for help.  "You start to lose focus of what you really deserve as a person, so I can't stress that enough. That's why I need support. I need someone to encourage me to keep going, even if I don't think I'm doing a good job, they tell me I'm doing a great job, just stuff like that. It keeps me going," Madison said.  More importantly, HALO officials say, is that these kids just want a family. HALO hopes to provide that structure at the new facility.  "I could tell you a thousand stories that would break your heart about where these kids live, but the real thing is, if you have a desire to help kids in the KC community we've got to have everybody locking arms behind this cause," Welsh said.  Without someone who believes in her, Madison said she'd be on the streets right now.  "And I promised myself I would never go back to that situation again," she said.

A Kansas City organization helping homeless and at-risk youth said the need is increasing.

https://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/new-6-million-housing-center-for-homeless-teens-in-the-works

HALO (Helping Art Liberate Orphans) recently started a big effort to help get a roof over more kids' heads. The organization is launching a $6 million project to build a new learning center and housing that can accommodate 24 boys and 24 girls.

Madison, a budding artist with big dreams, was at ReStart's youth homeless shelter when she was introduced to HALO a couple of years ago.

"Honestly, I can say I don't regret any of it because I wouldn't be the person I am now and I wouldn't have the mentality I have now," said Madison, who declined to give her last name.

Madison, 20, said that life at home "was negative for me," and she went from couch to couch, like many homeless teens do.

"Every day it was like a 'okay-where-am-I-going-to-sleep-tonight' type of thing. And I think that's the worst feeling to have," Madison said.

Her safe place is at HALO's learning center, which uses an art-based approach to help kids through whatever troubles they're facing.

"That is my venting. Every piece of work I create shows my past, my present and, what I like to say, my future, hopefully," Madison said.

Madison also has a safe place to rest her head through HALO's pilot housing program. She is one of two girls who live in an apartment.

"The biggest need that we've identified is for kids who are unattached, who don't have a family member who can take care of them, who are not able to go to a family shelter. These are kids who are 16 to 21 years old who need a place to live and stay and thrive," said Rebecca Welsh, the founder of HALO.

HALO helps 700 children every year through partnerships with other organizations to provide wrap-around services.

There are approximately 6,000 at-risk and homeless youth in Kansas City.

A donor, whom Welsh did not want to reveal yet, purchased and donated a 37-acre piece of land for the site on a hill off Blue Parkway and 52nd Terrace, near Interstate 435. It's tucked away in an area where there aren't many neighbors.

In HALO's housing program in Jefferson City, Welsh said they've noticed success because it is also in a secluded area, away from negative influences.

"They aren't constantly bombarded with people who've been in their past who are addicted to drugs, even family members," Welsh said.

HALO is early in the process and is currently focused on fundraising for the project. The organization is looking at construction companies and pursuing tax credits, grants, corporate sponsorships, foundation gifts and income sources to make the project a reality.

Welsh said there will be a curfew and 24-hour security at the facility. At the Jefferson City girls' home, Welsh says there are two "house moms" who live on-site.

HALO's programs focus on helping youth in their education and career goals and directing them to therapy resources. Welsh said sometimes it's teaching kids basic things like how to function in society.

"When they don't have the support of family during that critical time, it can be extremely difficult for them to have success in their life and to break whatever cycle they've been through," Welsh said.

HALO said it gets 15 to 20 calls a month from kids needing a place to stay immediately.

Madison said people don't want to think about youth homelessness and expect them to be on a street corner somewhere. She said it's important for people to remember that most kids, like her, don't want to admit they're homeless and have a hard time asking for help.

"You start to lose focus of what you really deserve as a person, so I can't stress that enough. That's why I need support. I need someone to encourage me to keep going, even if I don't think I'm doing a good job, they tell me I'm doing a great job, just stuff like that. It keeps me going," Madison said.

More importantly, HALO officials say, is that these kids just want a family. HALO hopes to provide that structure at the new facility.

"I could tell you a thousand stories that would break your heart about where these kids live, but the real thing is, if you have a desire to help kids in the KC community we've got to have everybody locking arms behind this cause," Welsh said.

Without someone who believes in her, Madison said she'd be on the streets right now.

"And I promised myself I would never go back to that situation again," she said.

2019 National Homeless Youth & Students Data Report: 1.4 Million Homeless Students Under 18 Yrs Old, 100% Increase Over The Last 10 Years, 76% Of Homeless Students Are "Doubling-Up"

A new study shows an increase in homelessness around the country, but their ages are decreasing.   https://www.abc57.com/news/study-number-of-homeless-youth-in-us-increased-by-nearly-100-in-the-last-10-years   Young people under the age of 18 are struggling without a roof over their heads now more than ever and that’s true in South Bend as well.  ABC57’s Tiffany Salameh met with a few young people who struggled with homelessness before their 18th birthdays.  “It’s scary,” Zackiria Sazar said, who was homeless during his high school years.  “I ended up on the streets around 9 or 10,” Ryan Clarkson said, who was without a roof over his head at just 9 years old.  Ryan and Zack’s struggles were similar, both choosing to leave abusive homes.  “I was not able to continue living with my mother we had some very severe disagreements,” Ryan said.  Ryan turned to the streets before hitting double digits and sadly, Ryan is not alone is his struggle.  New data from the National Center for Homeless Education shows an all-time high number of homeless youth under 18 with nearly 1.4 million students experiencing homelessness in the U.S.  That number has increased by nearly 100 percent in the last 10 years. Christina McGovern, St. Joseph County’s Youth Service Bureau Director, said an increase in homeless youth is stemming partly from abuse at home.  “One of the things our staff is seeing as the reasons why young people are homeless or coming to us for help is somewhat connected to the opioid or drug epidemic,” McGovern said. “Their home environment is really terrible. If you have a parent that’s using drugs and alcohol, they’re not shopping for food, they’re not keeping the house clean, they’re not doing these other things so a young person may have to choose, do I stay here in this unsafe environment or do I take my chances out.”  Zack, like Ryan, chose to take his chances calling his mom unstable.  “She was very abusive,” Zack said. “She and I always fought and everything else and I just left home because I couldn’t deal with it. I, myself, chose to be homeless because I didn’t want to deal with my mother. A lot people don’t get that, they see them out on the street, and they think oh they can just go back to their family, some on them don’t want to go back and some of them don’t have a family anymore.”  Both Zack and Ryan want people to take homelessness among young people more seriously. McGovern said that young people who struggle with homelessness struggle with invisibility because they don’t look like a typical homeless person.  “The thing is a lot of people who are out there are ignored,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t what the weather is or how lethal it can become. It doesn’t matter that some people can end up starving out there, all that really matters is that they are not paying customers and they don’t have a home or a job. So they’re not always considered to be people.”  At the Youth Service Bureau drop-in center in South Bend, young people can drop in for a bite to eat, to wash their clothes, grab supplies and also for help.  “We don’t want to them to take their chances out on the street if they feel unsafe and they need to go someplace, we want them to come to us and we can help connect them,” McGovern said.  YSB also offers resources like job training for teens and they’re always looking for help.

A new study shows an increase in homelessness around the country, but their ages are decreasing.

https://www.abc57.com/news/study-number-of-homeless-youth-in-us-increased-by-nearly-100-in-the-last-10-years

Young people under the age of 18 are struggling without a roof over their heads now more than ever and that’s true in South Bend as well.

ABC57’s Tiffany Salameh met with a few young people who struggled with homelessness before their 18th birthdays.

“It’s scary,” Zackiria Sazar said, who was homeless during his high school years.

“I ended up on the streets around 9 or 10,” Ryan Clarkson said, who was without a roof over his head at just 9 years old.

Ryan and Zack’s struggles were similar, both choosing to leave abusive homes.

“I was not able to continue living with my mother we had some very severe disagreements,” Ryan said.

Ryan turned to the streets before hitting double digits and sadly, Ryan is not alone is his struggle.

New data from the National Center for Homeless Education shows an all-time high number of homeless youth under 18 with nearly 1.4 million students experiencing homelessness in the U.S.

That number has increased by nearly 100 percent in the last 10 years. Christina McGovern, St. Joseph County’s Youth Service Bureau Director, said an increase in homeless youth is stemming partly from abuse at home.

“One of the things our staff is seeing as the reasons why young people are homeless or coming to us for help is somewhat connected to the opioid or drug epidemic,” McGovern said. “Their home environment is really terrible. If you have a parent that’s using drugs and alcohol, they’re not shopping for food, they’re not keeping the house clean, they’re not doing these other things so a young person may have to choose, do I stay here in this unsafe environment or do I take my chances out.”

Zack, like Ryan, chose to take his chances calling his mom unstable.

“She was very abusive,” Zack said. “She and I always fought and everything else and I just left home because I couldn’t deal with it. I, myself, chose to be homeless because I didn’t want to deal with my mother. A lot people don’t get that, they see them out on the street, and they think oh they can just go back to their family, some on them don’t want to go back and some of them don’t have a family anymore.”

Both Zack and Ryan want people to take homelessness among young people more seriously. McGovern said that young people who struggle with homelessness struggle with invisibility because they don’t look like a typical homeless person.

“The thing is a lot of people who are out there are ignored,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t what the weather is or how lethal it can become. It doesn’t matter that some people can end up starving out there, all that really matters is that they are not paying customers and they don’t have a home or a job. So they’re not always considered to be people.”

At the Youth Service Bureau drop-in center in South Bend, young people can drop in for a bite to eat, to wash their clothes, grab supplies and also for help.

“We don’t want to them to take their chances out on the street if they feel unsafe and they need to go someplace, we want them to come to us and we can help connect them,” McGovern said.

YSB also offers resources like job training for teens and they’re always looking for help.