A new count shows the number of homeless youth in Marion county is on the rise.
The count was done by the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention on November 7, 2018. They found 183 youth under age 25 who were experiencing homelessness. The number was 96 more than the number of homeless youth discovered during the 2017 count.
“Homelessness is a broad term. It means a lot more than people think,” said Jason Chenoweth, who is the CEO of Outreach, an organization helping Indy’s homeless youth. “The majority of the youth that we work with… we would say they’re couch surfing, they would say they’re staying with friends. But they don’t have a stable home.”
Outreach doesn’t have an overnight shelter. Instead, they provide a safe place for homeless youth to come during the day. They can pick up food, clothes, toiletries, and even do some laundry. While these things help address immediate needs, they don’t address the issues that led to their homeless situation. That’s where the Outreach staff and volunteers step in.
“Our primary focus is to build relationships,” Chenoweth said.
Once a relationship is made, the group helps youth become independent by the time they are 24.
“The big discussion right now is on the sustainability for homelessness,” Chenoweth said. “We’re not going to solve the sustainability issue unless we deal with relationships.”
Relationships like the one that has been formed with 23-year-old Rose Herrmann.
“The whole winter I stayed right off of Rural and Washington, right by the train tracks in a tent,” Herrmann said. “Pretty much the whole winter.”
At the age of 20, Herrmann found herself living alone on the streets. She tried going to shelters, but didn’t always feel safe.
“I tried to go to shelters, but my things would get stolen and no one would really care,” Herrmann said. “I was just like, ‘I’m going to sleep outside then.’”
The tent didn’t provide much relief. Others would come by and mess with her and her tent, slicing holes into the side.
After growing up rotating between foster homes and group homes, Herrmann had no one to turn to. She didn’t have a phone, a license, an address or even a birth certificate. These issues made it nearly impossible to find a job, and she had no idea what to do.
“A lot of the education wasn’t provided to me,” Herrmann said. “So simple things like balancing a checkbook or saving this amount of your check… people my age don’t know that.”
Not long after that winter in a tent, a local church pointed Herrmann to Outreach. The Outreach staff helped her obtain a birth certificate, phone, and ultimately a job and her own apartment.
“I have so many people I can call if I’m tempted to go down the wrong path again,” Herrmann said of her newfound relationships. “There’s so many people in my contact list that I can call.”
Herrmann is now busier than ever. She’s on the Youth Action Board, which helped launch a city-wide plan to solve the problem of youth homelessness. Having these relationships, she said, helps her stay on track with her goals.
“Holding me accountable for things I said I’m going to do,” Herrmann said of her mentors. “So it’s a big support.”
“When you sit down with a young adult who’s living on the street, and you just listen for 10 minutes to their story, you won’t ever look at homelessness [the same] again,” Chenoweth said.
That’s what his organization does on a daily basis and why they invest so much time in helping youth like Herrmann. They see the potential for success in every kid who walks through their doors, knowing all they need is direction and a support system to make it.
“We have graduates of Outreach that are in the city government at the highest positions, people who are very successful realtors, artists, business owners, so it’s a lot of fun to see that transition happen,” Chenoweth said. “If we can invest deeply in youth, we can avert the whole system for the next 50 years for that person.”