In your town, kids slept out in the cold last night. They may have been in the back of a car, under a bridge or in a crawl space between two buildings. They may have been young people aged out of the foster care system, runaway teenagers or small children with a single mom.
What they all had in common was this: After a series of relentless storms, they were cold, wet and hungry, and they had nowhere to go.
When I wrote last Christmas about homeless youngsters, there was hope that an improving economy might begin to reduce the number of young people at risk.
But workers on the front lines say the number of kids living on the street is getting bigger, not smaller. The most recent one-day survey counted 701 unaccompanied homeless youngsters in Sonoma County, plus 190 homeless families with children under 18.
The actual numbers are higher. There is simply no way for aid workers and volunteers to track all the young people being bounced from place to place, or all the young people who may be homeless at some time during the year.
At every agency that exists to help people in trouble, the story is the same: Hard times continue to grind away at job seekers and the people who rely on them for shelter and food.
Santa Rosa-based Catholic Charities is experiencing “unprecedented” demand at its shelters, shelter manager Jennielynn Holmes told Staff Writer Guy Kovner.
And with winter coming on, she added, “it's only going to get worse.”
Young workers are among the hardest hit. “It's difficult for youth with no job experience to compete with older people who have years of experience,” said Francis Welsh, a facility monitor at Tamayo House and co-chair of the Sonoma County Homeless Youth Task Force.
Tamayo House, operated by Social Advocates for Youth, provides housing and transitional services for 18-to-24 year olds, including many who aged out of foster care.
As happens in tough times, there is a waiting list. (With community support, SAY hopes to grow its capacity by transforming the former Warrack Hospital into a one-stop shop for youth services.)