It is really hard to recover from homelessness. In addition to the basic lack of food, hygiene, and shelter, homelessness presents long-term challenges that make it even harder for people to find opportunities and get back on their feet. How do you get a job or apply for government assistance without an address? How do you enroll your kids in school? Where do you feel safe?
The challenges of the homeless are magnified even more in homeless youth. On any given night, there are about 6000 homeless young people between the ages of 16 and 23 on the streets in Minnesota alone. Some of these kids have aged out of foster care and have no home to go to. Others have been abandoned or kicked out by their parents/guardians. Some are runaways.
Becoming homeless at some point in your adult life is hard enough, but starting out homeless is a deep hole. In 2012, a group of people in the north suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul (where I live), decided that it was unacceptable for these kids to crash with different friends every night, to live out of backpacks or cars, or to sleep on the streets. So they founded HOPE 4 Youth.
HOPE 4 Youth is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has shelter space, drop-in centers, food, personal hygiene, and clothing supplies available for teens aged 16-23. They also provide assistance so the kids can finish their education and/or find employment. They do outreaches and work to prevent more kids from becoming homeless, as well.
So what can you and I do to help groups like HOPE 4 Youth in their efforts to prevent youth homelessness and rescue at-risk kids?
-First, if you do not live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, dig around online for an organization in your area.
– Second, consider ways that you can financially support the organization. Non-profits are always looking for corporate sponsors for their programs and fundraisers. As an individual, you can also attend or participate in a fundraiser for the organization. In fact, tonight my husband and I will be running HOPE 4 Youth’s “Darkest Night of Your Life” 4k race.
– Third, shelters need stuff. Non-perishable food items, new and gently used clothing and shoes, unopened toiletries, bedding, etc. Check the organization’s website for specific needs.
– Fourth, consider giving your time. Groups like HOPE 4 Youth keep their overhead low by using an army of volunteer labor. You could get involved short-term by helping to plan a fundraiser or event, or take on a long-term role sorting donations or helping kids with homework. Again, the organization’s website will be your best resource for this information.
Kids need to be safe, healthy, loved, and provided for. What can you do to help at-risk teens, tomorrow’s adults, in your community?