Moderated by Rick Badie
They hide in plain view, yet many of us don’t acknowledge their existence: homeless youth. On any given night, hundreds of teens — many turned away by their parents or guardians because they came out of the closet — sleep on Atlanta’s streets and alleys and bunk in abandoned buildings. Today’s guest writers explore a growing problem in the region and solicit your help to serve this sector of our community. (Photo: Tyler Perry visits Young People Matter, an emergency shelter in Atlanta for homeless young people.)
Homeless youth in plain view
By Simone Joye
Kids tweeted him non-stop for nearly a week. He viewed my news segment with urgent pleas to help keep our youth shelter’s doors open. Afterwards, media mogul Tyler Perry called and asked, “What do you need?” We asked him to come visit. He replied, “I’ll be there within an hour.” He listened and shared with our kids. He encouraged them to never give up their dreams.
He also asked, “What do you need?” He was told $45,000. He wrote a check payable to Young People Matter (YPM), an organization I founded seven years ago, saving us with his birthday gift for 45 years of life and our largest individual contribution to date.
YPM serves as one of only three Atlanta emergency shelters for homeless, runaway, sexually exploited and other youth under 18. We are in crisis mode as we await the fate a three-year grant renewal from the federal government.
The kids we serve are described in a report by the Atlanta Foundation as “hidden in plain view.” They’re victims of child neglect. They have grown up in dysfunctional homes with rampant abuse. They have parents who are deceased or incarcerated. They are kicked out or forced to run away simply because they are gay or became pregnant. They sleep in abandoned houses, motels, on MARTA, under bridges, in our parks and on sidewalks.
They age out of foster care with no viable address. They are your neighbor’s kids. They are your children’s friends who visit your home often, especially during meal times. They could be your own children who are vulnerable to strangers simply because they are not receiving your attention, or their Internet use is not being monitored. They are unwanted pregnancies. They hold in dark secrets until they can’t take it anymore.
They stay under our radar. They may be teens in a homeless family, but unfortunately, they are not allowed in Atlanta’s family shelters. They are white, black and Latino and come from all socio-economic backgrounds. They are lonely, scared, mentally scarred and bullied. They are kidnapped. Many commit suicide. Some are murdered.
A plethora of pimps, pedophiles, sexual offenders and traffickers prey on them. Kids cling to them as saviors until they wake up from being drugged to find themselves handcuffed in a motel room with men (and women) violating their innocence.
Predators are highly successful in Atlanta because they know we possess a weak infrastructure for helping kids. It is a reason we have one of the largest sex trafficking networks in the nation. When youth are rescued, one vital component is missing: housing.
On any given night, it is estimated 2,500 children are without a home in Atlanta. We have only 19 crisis beds for those under 18. Seven of those, we operate at YPM; we are the only shelter for girls under 18.
Since 2011, we have served more than 2,000 youths with overnight, drop-in and street outreach services. Most are self-referred; others we find on the streets. Child welfare centers, courts, law enforcement, schools, parents/families and good Samaritans refer the rest.
Were it not for us, they could possibly be the kid who ends up committing an armed robbery or taking a life just to get a meal, coat or money to rent a motel room. The cost to serve youth through the child welfare or juvenile justice systems ranges from $25,000 to $55,000 per individual; at emergency youth shelters, nationwide, between $700 to $1,200.
With Perry’s help, funding is trickling in to our GoFundMe account. Right now, we have enough to keep our doors open through mid-January. We are in need of foundation support, corporate support, individuals and other celebrities. We are also in need of more board members and staff to reflect the youth we serve. Let us join together in doing good for them.
No longer can Atlanta say, “I had no idea.”
Simone Joye is executive director of Young People Matter.
Help homeless LGBTQ youth
By Rick Westbrook
A few weeks ago, a remarkable 19-year-old Kennesaw youth had the foresight to press “record” as his family began a “Pray the Gay Away” intervention. He had come out of the closet as being gay nearly a year earlier. One of his good friends posted the video to YouTube.