SleepOut 2015: Child & Family Services to shine a light on plight of homeless teens

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The SleepOut is invitation only, for this year, but you can donate to the cause by clicking the SleepOut 2015 logo below.

Click the YouTube video above to see why Cathy Schmidt of McLane Law Firm is sleeping out March 20.

MANCHESTER, NH This year Child and Family Services of NH decided to try something a little different when it comes to raising awareness – and much-needed funding – to assist at-risk and homeless teenagers.

Instead of another soirée of some sort, they decided to mount an under-the-radar fundraiser, challenging friends of CFS from the local business community, and staff members to raise donations in exchange for agreeing to sleep out on March 20 in Stanton Park, outside of the Radisson Hotel.

Appropriately called SleepOut 2015, the effort has already raised more than $70,000 toward CFS’s $100,000 goal, which will go a long way toward providing services and redirecting young lives in need of a new direction.

According to Kat Strange, CFS Communications Director, on any given night here in Manchester an estimated 300 youth are homeless for a range of reasons –  abuse, neglect, mental illness, substance abuse, strained relationships, gender or sexual identity, and poverty.  They are at great risk of being abused or exploited, and suffer many other consequences.

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Click the CFS Sleep Out 2015 logo above to go directly to the fundraising page.

The CFS SleepOut is not going to be like a camping trip with marshmallow roasting and campfire songs, says Strange. It will be a solemn event that brings community leaders together for one night out in the cold, to raise the collective community consciousness about the plight of homeless youth, show solidarity, and raise funds to help stabilize and transform the lives of youth who become homeless.

It’s a symbolic gesture made in much the same way that hundreds of people make each year for Special Olympics, when they jump into the Atlantic Ocean in January for the Penguin Plunge.

“The money would help us to do a number of things,” says Strange. “We’re the only ones with a street outreach program that serves runaway and at-risk youth. We’re out there, boots on the ground, casting a lifeline to these kids, and through our Teen Resource Center they can take advantage of a number of programs, including adolescent substance abuse treatment and so forth.”

Speaking of the CFS  Teen Resource Center, at 99 Hanover St., Strange says that while it has served many teens well, the search is on for another space in the downtown area that makes more sense given the range of services provided – everything from laundry and counseling, to AIDS testing and suicide prevention. Depending on the success of the fundraiser, some of the money may be able to assist with that project, as well, says Maria Gagnon, senior vice president of CFS.

Child and Family Services, which operates as a statewide, private, nonprofit organization, has a huge hand in helping to stabilize the lives of approximately 1,500 runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth in Manchester, Concord, Littleton, and the Seacoast.

A CFS street team goes out for 30 hours each week reaching out to at-risk youth, working to build trust, serving as a lifeline to help connect them to available services that include mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment, and helps youth with completing or pursuing their education, searching or training for jobs, and can provide or assist with housing.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 5.26.54 PMIn Manchester, Dover, Concord and Littleton, CFS operates transitional living homes that provide supportive housing, along with life skills training and support services to young people, ages 18 to 21, who are homeless or transitioning out of foster care.  The Transitional Living Program empowers disadvantaged youth as they work to become self-sufficient adults.

In this first year, the CFS SleepOut is a by invitation only including.

Registered sleepers are friends, family, colleagues, business associates, and partners of the agency. Major sponsors in the inaugural event include Pro Con Incorporated, Well Sense Health Plan, and Bank of America.

“There has never been a better time to stage an event like this,” says Maria Gagnon, senior vice president of Child and Family Services.  “With the needs of at-risk youth and the complexity of their problems on the rise, community resources and opportunities on the decline, and the future of young lives and communities at stake, we’re at a critical juncture.  We must be creative, proactive, and fearless in how we’re going to address youth homelessness in New Hampshire.”

To learn more about the CFS SleepOut 2015, and to support the agency’s work with homeless, at-risk youth, visit


 Who are runaway and homeless youth:

  • Late teens to early 20s
  • Runaway and homeless youth find themselves on the street most often because to them, it seems a lesser of evils (i.e. abusive or unhealthy environment at home), or that they had no choice.  The majority of youth in the CFS runaway and homeless youth programs report that:
  • Their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving and didn’t care.
  • They did not plan their departure and had $10 or less when they left home.
  • They have been affected by substance abuse and/or mental health issues.
  • They are or have been involved in unhealthy, violent relationships.
  • Straddle between youth and adulthood:  Although they are rarely treated as a distinct population, they are unique developmentally, emotionally, socially, and economically.

Why is it so important to address problems youth face at this point in life:

  • Recent brain research suggests the ages between 17 and 24 is a period of robust brain development. This presents an opportunity with emerging adults – a developmental sweet spot – just like the first 5 years of life are a critical period of childhood development.
  • Decisions and experiences that occur during this period have long-lasting implications on an individual’s economic security, health, and well-being.
  • Emerging adults are key contributors to our workforce and economy, and we need them to be successful for the financial health of our state.
  • Marginalized young adults are much less likely than others to transition to adulthood successfully.

Current trends in the population:

  • Increased numbers of youth who are living in generational poverty.
  • Increase in complexity of youth issues including severe substance use, severe and untreated mental illness, lack of education, lack of job readiness skills, lack of interpersonal skills, and pregnancy and parenting issues.
  • These lead to more extended periods of homeless due to the barriers to overcome in order to become independent.

Gaps in the system/ needs:

  • Age appropriate and developmentally appropriate services for this population recognizing that the adult system is not adequate for young emerging adults.
  • This includes sustainable funding within the state to provide emergency shelter opportunities to meet the unique needs of this population
  • Job training and job readiness programs that focus on teaching young people the interpersonal skills that are required for them to gain employment and be able to maintain employment.
  • Livable wage opportunities for young adults – with older adults staying in the workforce longer and individuals with college degrees and work experience taking entry level, minimum wage jobs, youth are being pushed out of the workforce.  Food service and retail positions are not even available to them anymore.
  • Educational opportunities that provide an ability to earn income or support a youth’s basic needs – often education is passed up in order to attempt to work 2 or 3 minimum wage jobs for survival.
  • Substance use services that are readily available and are low barrier
  • Affordable housing opportunities within NH.

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About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!