Thursday, September 16, 2010

Homeless Youth Initiative gets emergency support

Alternative House just got some very good news. The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region awarded our Homeless Youth Initiative an emergency $25,000 grant so we can help kids who are homeless and still in high school find safe shelter. We were going to have to tell 30 young people that they only had 30 days to figure out how to pay their rent and stay in school. Now that won’t happen.
The Homeless Youth Initiative has had some incredible success this past year. In June of 2009 there were 100 young people ages 16 to 20 who were homeless, who didn’t have the support of a parent or guardian and who were trying to finish high school. Numerous students in this situation had to drop out of school and almost 10% ended up in adult homeless shelters. And let me assure you….an adult shelter is no place for a teenager.
At the end of this year we had 200 high school students in Fairfax who were homeless without the support of a family. But because of this program, none were living in an adult shelter and only one dropped out of school. Seventeen are going on to college full time and many others have found full time jobs and are enrolled in NOVA.
About a month ago, I went to a lunch with a handful of other nonprofit executives and we were asked what was keeping us awake at night. I shared my heartache of possibly needing to close a program that had done so much good -- a program that was making a real difference in the future of some of our young people. Instead of dropping out of school, they are going on to college. Instead of being propositioned in an adult homeless shelter, they were living with a family and graduating from school. At that lunch was Terri Lee Freeman, President of the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region. She said they might be able to help. Less than 30 days later, our program and our young people have some breathing room. It’s not safe yet. These dollars will get us through the next several months but we still need longer term support.
The Homeless Youth Initiative addresses in an innovative way a problem that is growing nationwide. With a combination of host homes (like those who house a foreign exchange student), rent vouchers that pay a small amount (about $350 a month) to a family to rent a room to a student and a small group home in Vienna for four young women, we have made a real difference.
It looks like next year there may be federal funding to address this issue. That won’t help the kids who are homeless and trying to finish school this year. We don’t want our youth in an adult homeless shelter with no education, no prospects and no hope. In the end, it helps all of us to have our young people graduate from high school and move on to productive lives. That’s why we will turn over every stone to search for the dollars to help them.

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