“You got any weed?” is how William “Trash” Hansen introduced himself on a hot spring day in the Little 5 Points neighborhood of Atlanta. The heels of his socks peeked through the disintegrated soles of his steel-toed boots as he walked the strip in search of the drug. If you passed him on the street you may have thought twice before striking up a conversation. If the soot- drenched, patch- woven outfit didn’t give you pause, the blatant drug references and casual cat-calls may have. Sporadically he’d push back the small puff of dreadlocked hair sprouting from the crown of his head or run his arm across his forehead to wipe away sweat.
The Department of Health and Human Services, The Administration for Children and Families, The Administration on Children, Youth and Families, is offering the Runaway and Homeless Youth Street Outreach Program. The goal is to assist children who fall victim to exploitation and abuse on the streets. The objective is to increase the safety, wellbeing and self-sufficiency of homeless youth. This is accomplished by building connections with them so organizations can help provide for the child’s immediate physical needs while helping improve behavioral and psychological health for them. The deadline is June 24, 2011.
If you were expecting Dickens, forget it. Homeless kids in Georgia do not have a special look. They’re hiding right in front of you. That’s the first thing we learned from Mary, who looks like any other teenager in Atlanta. Her hair is tied up with a pink ribbon on top of her head and several subtle piercings adorn her face and ears. Dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, she is quick to flash her big, bright smile. Mary is one of an unknown number of homeless young people living in Atlanta. Mary’s experience is not very different from that of many homeless teens. After a stormy relationship with her mother, she was kicked out of her parents’ house on her 18th birthday three weeks ago. “I didn’t get along with my mom, but my dad was okay. We got along,” she said.
More people in Georgia are homeless, including families and young people. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports 20,360 people in Georgia had no home in 2009, up 7% from the year before. Even more alarming is the number of people doubling up, or living with friends or family because of economic hardship: 272,305 people. That’s right- more than a quarter million of your friends and neighbors have doubled up in Georgia, and that number is 10% higher than the year before. The Alliance reports there are also 728 homeless young people who’ve aged out of foster care and are on the streets alone.
In the season of warm fuzzy sweaters and family get-togethers, many young people in Georgia have but one New Year’s resolution – a safe place to sleep at night. An unknown number of teenagers and young adults are alone and homeless in Georgia. Who they are and where they are – no one knows much about them. For the first time Georgia is undertaking an ambitious project to count a representative sample of these homeless youth statewide, and develop a uniform reporting system. Funded by the Governor’s Office for Families and Children, the project takes place during the last week of January. The Homeless Youth Count Project is part of a bi-annual census of homeless people of all ages, mandated by HUD. As part of this initiative The State Department of Community Affairs is sending out a questionnaire to service providers in 152 counties, which for the first time, will ask for specific information about homeless young people, 24 and younger.