Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An Alternative to Homelessness

The first young man who entered our Homeless Youth Initiative has become my “poster child” for telling people about what a difference this program makes in people’s lives.

“John” was 18 and a junior in high school when his father kicked him out of the house. His Dad had a substance abuse problem and often acted erratically. John went from friend to friend, “couch surfing” until he ran out of friends in late August; just before the start of his senior year. A social worker placed him in a small adult homeless shelter.

His very first night there John was propositioned by his roommate. The next morning, he fled the shelter and was sleeping in the bleachers of his high school football stadium because that was where he felt safest.

Alternative House has an emergency shelter for teenagers that provides a safe haven to runaway, homeless and abused young people 13-17-years old, but John was 18. We were able to get a waiver of the rules and brought John in to safety.

Working with the faith community, we located a woman who would rent a room to John. It was close to his high school, his girlfriend and his job, but John couldn’t make enough money to cover the rent and continue to attend school. Through Alternative House’s Homeless Youth Initiative, we were able to pay $325 a month towards his $500 rent. John paid the rest.

John stayed in school and graduated on time. He is working full-time as a car salesman and his employers love him. He’s also going to community college. The small investment this community made in John has resulted in a young man with a future versus a homeless high school drop-out. It also means we have a successful citizen not someone in our shelters or jail. Everyone wins here.

Judith Dittman is executive director of Alternative House, the abused and homeless children’s refuge.

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