In the midst of the COVID crisis, I fear one of our most vulnerable populations is slipping through the cracks: homeless and runaway youth.
Sometimes referred to as “invisible youth,” these young people have nowhere to call home. Many have run away from turbulent situations, and others simply abandoned. It’s certainly not the life any of them imagined – and one most hope to change. To make it through each day, these kids – right in our own backyard – rely on kindness, resiliency and couch surfing.
But the pandemic is testing even the most resilient of these youth. When COVID-19 shuttered schools, closed community centers and severed connections to friends and social support systems, being invisible suddenly became lonelier than ever.
Take a step back and consider how disconnected you felt during these difficult times, as we all have. Now, imagine you have nowhere safe to sleep – fears of the virus understandably limit couch-surfing options – and your phone – your only lifeline — is losing its charge.
Here in Pensacola, the Street Solutions team at Children’s Home Society of Florida (CHS) is literally stepping in for these youth, hitting the pavement harder than ever to reach out and meet their needs.
While most of us have found safety sheltered at home – and, let’s be honest, probably groaned about boredom – the Street Solutions team put on their PPE and went to the streets.
Day after day, they trekked into parks and homeless camps to deliver food, clothing and hygiene items and, most importantly — through social distancing, video calls and social media – they provided a listening ear and a positive support system.
Why? Because CHS sees more than the label of a “runaway.” They see a student, a future employee at a local business and untapped potential.
Street Solutions is just the beginning. Once connected to CHS, the youth have access to a continuum of resources that allow them to build upon their strengths, work through their obstacles and realize their potential to become self-sufficient and successful adults.
For some, the defining factor is finding stability … they find it with M-Power House, which provides access to housing, counseling, job skills training, learning life skills and more.
And with a focus on self-sufficiency, CHS’ Youthworks program connects local young people with education and employment opportunities so they can take charge of their lives and reshape their own futures. The CHS Program Supervisors and Counselors do a phenomenal job working with and mentoring these youth.
As chair of the CHS Board of Directors, I have seen firsthand the difference these programs make. I have shaken the hands of these young people and listened to their success stories. They are immensely proud of their accomplishments – and rightly so. And, without fail, they remind me that it’s all because someone believed in them, reached out and invested in their lives.
The investment CHS makes in these kids is a spark that lights the human spirit. It is a transformation and a solid foundation for these young people that need help so desperately.
It’s the foundation they craved but rarely believed existed – until CHS stepped out into the streets. As we all work to support one another through and beyond the challenges of COVID-19, we cannot forget about our “invisible youth.”
I urge you to join me and CHS, to become a stepping stone to success for the young people who are too often forgotten in our own community by investing in their futures. You will be the difference in someone’s life. To learn more about these programs please visit chsfl.org.
Originally posted by: Pensacola News Journal