We need to do something about youth homelessness
Laura is 16 years old. She is a junior in high school. She works hard and gets pretty good grades. She would like to go to community college when she graduates, and she is looking forward to junior prom. She also lives with her parents and her little brother in a motel room because last year her dad lost his job and they couldn’t make rent. So, Laura wants to / needs to help out with the family finances. She just got her first job as a server in a local restaurant. Only there is one problem: she needs to supply a work uniform for herself. That’s a blouse, black pair of slacks, and dress shoes. The cost will be around $85 if she shops smart. But she doesn’t have $85, so what can she do?
Another story. Sam is a friend of Laura’s, except he’s 17 years old and needs to get a driver’s license so that he can get to his job and, next year, get to community college. But driving school costs over $500 and since Sam is couch surfing and also homeless, he doesn’t have the money to pay for his license. He could possibly take the bus, but based on where he needs to go, that will typically take 1-2 hours each day, and on top of school there’s no way he could do that and also work. So, what is Sam to do?
These two stories illustrate a little bit of the plight of some of the many homeless youth in our community. People are always a little bit shocked to hear that we have around 400 young people in the Nashua School District who are homeless. Some of them are with their families. Some are not. All are vulnerable.
The question is what to do to help these young people experiencing homelessness with some of these basic needs? We often talk about our goal to provide people with a hand up so that they can move forward and, with that little bit of help, break the cycle of poverty. The problem is that there are very few resources in our community to pay for these things, like work clothes, books for community college, or driving school. Yet these relatively inexpensive items are the very things which can dramatically change the trajectory of a young person’s life and help them get on the path toward permanent self-sufficiency. The reason that there really aren’t many resources to help pay for these things is that the grants which most agencies receive from government sources are typically very narrowly defined and don’t allow for discretionary expenditures.
To help solve this problem, at United Way we have taken up the call and set ourselves a goal of creating a dedicated fund to support the needs of homeless youth in our community. In our vision, this fund will be very flexible and easily administered, and give us, as a community, the ability to say “yes” when the need arises. As you might be expecting, as is often the case, part of my column includes an “ask” of you. This time the ask is that you support the creation of this very important fund by supporting the unique fundraiser we’ve designed to raise the money. This spring, on May 16th, we’re taking a team of 25 brave individuals skydiving in an event which we’re calling “Skydive United.” Each of my 25 teammates is being tasked with raising $3,000 to support our youth homelessness fund. On top of that, we have a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, who has already pledged $10,000 to the cause. So far, I’ve got about half the team, so I’m looking for another dozen or so people to join us. This is the question: do you have what it takes to join us in this effort? Do you care passionately about the young people in our community? Are you willing to support one of us with a donation or a sponsorship? If you say “yes” to any of these questions, then PLEASE give me a call over at United Way and we’ll get you in on the effort.
Youth homelessness is a significant problem. It matters because homeless youth are the very most vulnerable people in our society. They run the risk of being exploited by traffickers and they experience adversity which can have lifelong consequences. But we can make a difference, and I sincerely hope that you will join us in this effort, because GREAT THINGS HAPPEN WHEN WE LIVE UNITED.
Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua.