State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

For Young Adults, Homelessness is a Very Real Problem

by on May 11, 2012 6:00 PM

How often do you think about homelessness in your community? Do you know anyone who is homeless or has been homeless? Do you see homelessness as an issue in our area?

Too often our vision of homelessness is tainted by images from television, movies and news reports in metropolitan cities.

We expect to see the homeless under a bridge in New York or in a tent city in Chicago. We falsely believe that if we don’t see people out on the streets, then we don’t have a problem with homelessness.

That couldn’t be more inaccurate. Would you be surprised to learn that a Point-in-Time survey conducted in Centre County on Jan. 25, 2012, counted 49 homeless adults and 17 homeless children?

At the Youth Service Bureau, we run a program designed to assist a part of this vulnerable population. Stepping Stone Transitional Living Program provides homeless youth, ages 16-21, with a safe and stable place to live, while helping them learn basic life skills, pursue their education, obtain employment and access physical and mental health care.

Our residents work hard to plan for their future and learn the skills they will need to be successful. If they have not completed their high school education, residents must enroll in school or pursue their GED.

Every resident begins searching for employment and works with staff to learn to fill out applications, practice interviewing skills and make follow-up calls to managers.

We look for opportunities every day for our residents to make their own decisions, recognize and utilize their strengths and learn from their mistakes in a safe environment. They learn to pay rent, establish savings and budget their money.

We work with them on everything from learning to do laundry and follow a recipe, to completing college and financial aid applications.

We also conduct weekly life skills workshops for our residents that are open to any youth in the community who would like to learn or improve their skills. Our residents have their struggles, just like every teenager, but it can just make their success that much sweeter.

You may have walked past our home several times. We are only a few blocks up from College Avenue. But there is no sign in our yard announcing our program and this is done intentionally.

The youth who come into our program have often been through the worst of the worst during their short lives. They may have been victims of abuse, struggled with addiction, run away from home or been evicted.

In short, by the time they come to us, they have nowhere else to go and no means of financially supporting themselves.

How many of us could have 100 percent supported ourselves at 18 with no other people in our lives to offer assistance or even just to have someone to talk to? In 2011, Stepping Stone served 17 of these homeless young adults through our residential program.

Homelessness is an issue in our community and everyone can help. Do you have time to give as a mentor? Do you possess a knowledge or skill you would be willing to teach to our residents in a workshop? Would you be willing to tutor a youth or employ a youth?

Or, most importantly to our residents, if you find out they are homeless, will you treat them the same way you would every other teenager?

Kimberly Wood is the director of the Stepping Stone Transitional Living Program for Centre County's Youth Service Bureau.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.
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