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Groups look to help homeless children

Creative strategies to support homeless youth in the Tri-Cities will be developed during the next few months through a grant awarded to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
NAEHCY will work with service providers, community members and youth over a three-year period to establish a Homeless Youth Task Force in each of the nine communities selected in East Tennessee, North Carolina and California.
Patricia Julianelle, legal director for NAEHCY, led a meeting in Johnson City on April 10 to discuss the project with representatives from local support agencies. The meeting was hosted by the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness.
ARCH has identified almost 5,000 homeless people in the eight surrounding counties, and close to 2,500 of them are under 18 years of age.
Unaccompanied youth are defined as those who meet the definition of homeless and are not in the physical custody of their parents or guardians. A survey of youth ages 11-25 on the websites of local agencies received 100 responses.
“I feel like we got a good cross section of the community,” Julianelle said.
The East Tennessee area was selected because it has a significantly higher number of unaccompanied youth than what is expected based on total population, according to Julianelle.
Kingsport City schools have seen a 49 percent increase during the last four years, and currently have 300 homeless children. Johnson City Schools recorded a 36 percent increase to 505 homeless children. A 2009 survey listed Washington County as having 162 homeless children.
In addition, the National Runaway Switchboard received more than 700 calls from the 423 area code during 2010, which was nearly twice the number of calls from San Francisco.
Lack of transportation and embarrassment or shame were listed as the greatest barriers to youth seeking services.
“Many prefer to stay out of sight so authorities do not contact their parents or the Department of Children’s Services,” Julianelle said. “It’s not always a reflection of available services.”
According to survey results, youth named their first preference for housing as “in my own apartment with support,” with the lowest-ranking categories being in a shelter and with parents.
Julianelle said law enforcement officers can take youth under age 18 to a detention center, but they are not required to if another plan can be worked out.
A program she worked with in Michigan allows the officers to contact school liaisons who speak with the youth about available options.
Efforts in Florida resulted in passage of a law that allows youth to obtain a copy of their birth certificate without their parents’ permission.
Suggestions during the meeting included changes in the law to include some kind of hold harmless agreement to avoid potential liability for those trying to help youth.
Another idea was to have an avenue to get around the reporting rule that is forcing kids to go underground.
Julianelle will summarize the ideas generated during breakout sessions, and a follow-up open community meeting will be held in the fall to determine status in working toward the goal.