Program to Target Homeless Children

Some homeless children may “couch surf” while others might live in a tent or vehicle.

Hopefully, those types of living situations can be avoided with a new youth homelessness program, which will be launched next year as a pilot in St. Clair.

It will use a multi-pronged approach to help homeless youth who are separated from their families, said Annie Schulte, executive director of the Franklin County Children and Families Community Resource Board.

The agency, which is funded by a quarter-cent sales tax, is contracting with Jireh Ministries for $88,000 to provide the program.

Youth homelessness has been reported in Franklin County.

There were 269 students in the Meramec Valley R-III School District who were homeless during the 2014-2015 school year, according to a report from the state department of education.

Homeless counts in other districts that year were Union R-XI, 37; Lonedell R-XIV, 11; St. Clair R-XIII, 28; Sullivan, 72; New Haven, 16; and Washington, 34. The criteria for being homeless could include a range of situations, such as living at a campground, motel, vehicle or abandoned building.

This program will focus on homeless youth who are disconnected from family.

Homelessness is difficult to track, Schulte said. Getting good counts depends on people admitting to being homeless and teachers and administrators having knowledge that students are homeless, Schulte said.

The primary goal of the program will be to reunify the child with his or her family if it is safe or even possible.

Safe Places

The first step will be establishing “Safe Places” throughout the community where homeless youth can get help. Safe Places can be businesses, public facilities, civic organizations or other locations, Schulte said.

There will be an effort to find businesses and organizations in St. Clair willing to be a Safe Place, which is a national organization, she noted.

Employees at Safe Places are trained on what to do if a homeless youth “shows up on their doorstep,” she noted. A hotline will be offered next year to allow youth to speak with a master’s level mental health professional. If a child has an immediate mental health need, a mobile outreach unit could be deployed to the location.

The Legacy Center can provide housing for 24 to 72 hours for a homeless child coming from an abusive or neglectful situation. While at the facility, the child would undergo an assessment to determine the best course of action, whether that is reunifying with his or her family or being put in the host family program.

Host Families Sought

The host family program will involve people in the community volunteering to open their homes to homeless youth.

“We are going to be asking members of the community if they would be willing to be a host family for a youth that is homeless,” Schulte said.

The priority will be finding host families in the St. Clair area since that will be the location of the pilot program in 2016.

She compared it to a family having a foreign exchange student. The homeless children eligible for the host family program want to go to school, she said.

“Most of them are pretty resilient kids, they’re very self-sufficient, they want to succeed,” Schulte said. “They have had some barriers in life that they haven’t been able to overcome. They’re trying to get past them.”