Homeless youth count rises in Springfield to more than 450

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 | 12:04 p.m. CST; updated 12:37 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 3, 2010

SPRINGFIELD — More than 450 young people between the ages of 11 and 22 are homeless in Springfield, according to a recent count.

Those numbers left members of the Task Force for Homeless Young Children in almost stunned silence Tuesday as Todd Duncan, coordinator of Youth Services at The Kitchen Inc., delivered the startling report.

The count was conducted during a five-week stretch in 2009 and offers several initial remedies.

"We need help in fulfilling what this data and this report have shown," said Becky Morgan, Springfield Public Schools' coordinator of homeless services. "I saw a lot of you shaking your heads, maybe saying, 'Oh my God.' But there's only a handful of us trying to do this."

East Sunshine Church of Christ approved to serve as emergency shelter.

Of the 456 youths surveyed, the average age of the first time they were homeless on their own was 15.

Half were kicked out at 15.2 years of age, and the school dropout rate is 29 percent, five times higher than the local average.

But here was the shocker: An estimated 950 to 1,450 Greene County youths ages 12 to 17 were homeless at least one night in the past 12 months.

The numbers gained attention of local agencies, just as Duncan hoped.

The Rare Breed Outreach Center, which he oversees, receives $105,000 in federal grant money. But it covers a three-year stretch, and an additional $50,000 must be raised to help cover the entire budget, Duncan said.

"Unfortunately a lot of people don't know what the homeless youth situation is," he said. "In the past year, we've discussed that we weren't being very good advocates and, if we changed the way we were presenting the information, it would get the word out."

The study included four ways to address the issues and referred to recommendations of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. That organization said outreach is key but only effective if it leads to matching the youths' needs.

But Morgan, part of the task force's committee focused on this issue, said more needs to be done. She said 141 Springfield public school students on Friday were identified as homeless.

Morgan implored others to join the committee meetings, scheduled the second Wednesday of every month.

"Some of us are wearing down," Morgan said.

"This is their voice," task force co-chair Doug Pitt emphasized to all in attendance, referring to homeless youths and the report. "This is the only way we are hearing from them."

Another report was issued Tuesday from the Continuum of Care, which recently conducted a one-day homeless count.

"The numbers are very good in a very bad way," said Randy McCoy, grants writer for the Continuum of Care.

The study found:

  • 159 unsheltered homeless, or those not staying in shelters and not staying with family and friends.
  • The count in January 2009 was 35.

"That does not mean there are a lot more unsheltered individuals in Springfield. We just did a better job of finding them," McCoy said, pointing out that volunteers walked to camps where homeless families live. "159 is probably half (the unsheltered) homeless."

  • 454 homeless are in shelters, but that figure is expected to increase because not all agencies have reported. That number was 383 in January 2009.
  • 81 are chronically homeless, compared with 71 last year. Again, not all agencies have reported.

"What it doesn't show is the rest of the iceberg," McCoy said of the one-day count. "We don't see people who are doubled up or couch surfing. The primary place that people come from is not from an apartment. It's from living with family and friends. So we don't know how many people are living on the cusp."

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