Hidden in plain sight: Issue of youth homeless stretches far and wide

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Part 2 in a series on youth homelessness


MANCHESTER, NH – To bring to light a harsh reality of youth homeless in NH, Waypoint’s Erin Kelly suggests visualizing a group of 30 young people.  It may be a high school sports team, choir, or even a large classroom of students.  Odds are very good that one of those students does not have a secure place to live.

1 in 30.  

In every classroom in the state.

If that does not get your attention, how about this?  New Hampshire is the only state in New England that doesn’t have a dedicated youth overnight shelter.

Kelly,

Erin Kelly MA LCMNC, Director of Homeless Youth and Young Adult Services.

at the agency, says that there are nearly 15,000 youth in NH – defined as those as 13-25, who were homeless or housing insecure for at least part of the year in 2020.  She says that Waypoint serves about 300 youth per year.  “And the issue is growing,” she noted. “Even in cases where kids have a roof over their heads, they are couch surfing and some cases, floor surfing.”  

In some cases, these are the luckier ones.

As one might imagine, COVID-19 has adversely impacted youth in need. Beyond services that were disrupted when many schools went to remote or hybrid models, Kelly says that other havens for kids-like coffee shops where they might access the internet, charge a phone, or just get warm – are no longer an option due to the pandemic.  “This certainly added to the challenges,” she says. 

Waypoint is amid a push to provide more resources for kids in need, particularly those in an immediate crisis.  The agency operates a youth drop-in center in Manchester’s center city with future plans to open additional sites in Concord and Rochester.  Waypoint officials say the centers will offer facilities to take showers, do laundry, get some food, and use the Wi-Fi or access a computer.  Currently, the Manchester site is open weekdays with hours tailored to the times of the most need.

Kelly, who has been with Waypoint for 15 years, says that in assessing need, the Dover/Rochester/Somersworth area currently has the highest number of referrals and Waypoint has brought on new staff to support the influx.

To increase services and access and eventually build an overnight shelter in Manchester, Waypoint will be holding what it calls its most important fundraiser of the year in late March.  The Waypoint 2021 Sleep Out takes place on March 26 and will be held virtually.  Participants will sleep outside for the evening and donate funds or collect pledges for the cause.  To learn more, please visit: https://waypointnh.org/happenings/sleepout-2021 Event organizers hope to raise $300,00 this spring.

Kelly and others say that there is no one root cause to the issue, rather many factors, some in combination, as contributing factors. 

“Our clients come to us from a variety of circumstances, ranging from abuse and neglect, generational poverty, and parents or guardians who are incarcerated,”  Kelly said, adding that the opioid crisis and behavioral heath issues also factor in some cases. 

“Everyone has a right to safe, secure housing,” she said.  “When we serve our clients, we first seek to address immediate issues and then work to connect them to other services.”


⇒ Read Part 1 here.

In our next feature, we will take a closer look at the drop-in center program at Waypoint and provide an insider’s perspective on the value and import of this key service.  I invite your questions, comments, and feedback at Chrisdugan@manchesterink.com.

To learn more about Waypoint, or get involved, please visit: https://waypointnh.org/