Agency helps homeless youth rebuild their lives
May 21st, 2014
Omaha, NE — Felicia Denton left home when she was 16 -years-old and hasn’t looked back.[audio:http://www.kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/FINAL_Homelessness_WP.mp3]
“I was tired of the fighting and the arguing and not having the things that we should have like the lights, gas and utilities. I chose to leave,” she said.
Denton stayed with family and friends while she could, but ultimately she was homeless.
The Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless estimates that 310 youth and young adults in Omaha were homeless or unstably housed as of January 2013.
Mary Fraser Meints, executive director of Youth Emergency Services, said that she suspects that many homeless youth remain unaccounted for. The organization’s Street Outreach Program is designed to help a team of staff and volunteers find youth in crisis and assist them.
“Last year we served over a thousand young people through the street outreach program, which is 200 more than the previous year,” Fraser Meints said. “Our team is going out on the street on a regular basis and people know our team and they trust our team.”
YES offers numerous services to youth. There is the emergency shelter, the transitional living program, the maternity home and mentorship.
Denton found herself at the emergency shelter for what she thought would be a three-week stay. But once she began to see the positive effects of applying the counsel she received, she decided to stay.
“In the end it helped me become independent and learn how to do things on my own,” Denton said.
Shawn Miller is the coordinator for the Street Outreach Program. He said building trust is the most challenging aspect of working with youth in the program.
“A lot of these kids have been let down by systems, by families, by friends so trust is definitely a hard thing to gain so we try to get them in here and let them know that we’re here to help,” Miller said. “We get them to open up about what’s going on and see if we can provide the appropriate services.”
The Street Outreach Program Data Collection Project found that on average, youths were homeless for two years and 47 percent slept outside at least once while homeless. The project also found that many youth seeking shelter didn’t know where to go, or the shelter was full.
Miller said youth usually come to the shelter seeking food, clothing and job placement assistance. On a typical pantry night, 40-60 youth visit the facility.
“The cool thing about YES is that we can serve anyone in any situation that fits the age criteria,” he said. “We want to get to them before they become homeless, help them out before they decide to run away or whatever situation is going on in their lives. We want to help them avoid homelessness.”
Denton is now a 20-year-old freshman studying early childhood education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She credits the assistance she received from YES.
“They helped me become very independent. When I left YES to stay in the dorms I was scared because staying in the dorms is technically on your own. There are no cameras watching you, and you don’t have to meet with a case worker once a week,” Denton said. “Moving out I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own but being in that program and going through classes to be independent– I did it and I’m still doing it.”
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