O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
Working with young adults experiencing homelessness is a unique and humbling experience. Some days we get to laugh and joke with our young people, while other days we sit with them through some of the hardest experiences of their lives. We hear their stories, their triumphs, losses, frustrations, and hold space for the hurt they have endured.
We hustle to find these young people. We bear witness to the system failures that left them behind, and advocate fearlessly for them. Sometimes we grieve for those we have lost too soon, and we constantly wish we could do more; wish that there was more available for them.
We are Chelsea, Ariel, and Amy of Waypoint’s Homeless Youth and Young Adult Programs. We work with young people, 12-24 years old, who are experiencing homelessness in New Hampshire. Here is our perspective on this growing problem, and our proposed solutions.
Approximately 15,000 young people in New Hampshire will experience homelessness this year. These statistics are hard to fathom. To the untrained eye, this is an invisible problem. Youth experience homelessness differently than adults and they most often do so in the shadows.
Youth stay under the radar, they couch surf, work regular jobs, may even attend classes at school, and in many ways look like your average young adult. They are resourceful and resilient, and they are often experiencing homelessness for the first time– which makes them especially vulnerable.
Most Granite Staters aren’t aware of their existence. But we are.
These are the young people we see every day in our work. They are incredibly strong, funny, sweet, intelligent, selfless, and extremely hard working. Some of them come from a background of generational poverty and many do not. They work jobs, take care of family members, parent their own children, and support friends and neighbors in their communities.
But here’s the thing. Once you’re down, there is no clear pathway up. For some of our young people it was one bad event that landed them in this situation. The reality of no credit, and lack of affordable housing and livable wages, has kept them living in their cars and couch surfing. Currently, there are no local shelters with the appropriate services dedicated to this age group, and the pandemic has closed doors to them, truly leaving them out in the cold.
Waypoint has an array of services to fit the needs of these young people and help them redirect their lives. Our Street Outreach and Runaway Youth Programs, as well as our Youth Resource Center, provide low barrier access to basic needs and critical supports. Rapid Rehousing and Transitional Living Programs provide a safe place for young people to live while engaging in intensive case management, learning life skills, and carving a path to independence. These programs help youth achieve stable housing and reach their long-term goals.
The goal of our programs at Waypoint is to be proactive and prevent these young people from entering chronic homelessness.
This year, we are expanding our services to reach more young people throughout the State, and it’s just in time as the numbers of youth seeking help has almost doubled since the pandemic began. Plans are underway to open drop-in centers in Rochester and Concord, and an overnight shelter in Manchester. However, this expanded social safety net will only be possible with community support. That’s why we are staging our 2021 SleepOut event. This is the community’s chance to take the next step toward ending youth homelessness in New Hampshire.
When you play a part in the SleepOut, you help to change the trajectory of these young lives. By giving even $10, you can provide a young person with a laundry card or even a fast-food gift card, and subsidize life-changing services such as schooling and job training. Every little bit has an immediate and lasting effect on these youth, and every life we redirect contributes to a healthier, stronger New Hampshire.
We love our work, whole-heartedly believe in these young people, and want to believe that the people of New Hampshire will step up during this critical time. Please consider how you can play a part in the SleepOut to advance this important mission. Almost 15,000 young lives will depend on it. www.waypointnh.org
Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Thoughtful prose on topics of general interest are welcome here. Send submissions to email@example.com, subject line: The Soapbox.
Submitted by, from left, Ariel Hayes, Chelsea Gomes and Amy Malone, work in the trenches of youth homelessness for Waypoint NH.