The Springfield area has a high count of youth experiencing homelessness, with 70 percent of homeless youth between the ages of 17-18. It was among the statistics discussed Thursday before roughly 50 people at the Springfield Art Museum.
According to the 2016 Homeless and at risk Survey Report, the majority of homeless youth are white and identify the city as their home town.
A showing of Hillcrest High School’s 2013 documentary Homelessness in the Heartland set the tone for Thursday evening’s post-video discussion.
Five panel members guided by Springfield Public Schools Homeless Liaison Lynn Shrik told the audience about the results of homeless surveys and services available for youth.
“Right now we have over 1,100 youth that are classified as homeless within Springfield Public Schools,” Shirk said.” We have about 25,000 students [total], about 52 schools and there is definitely a need for people to advocate for our youth experiencing homelessness.”
The documentary, created by high school students, focused on services available in the community and shared stories of youth who were homeless at the time. The Rare Breed, a youth homeless shelter in Springfield is a safe place on weekdays.
“A day in our job is a day you could be in one day a teacher, doctor, a mom and a counselor,” said Brooke Shelby a Rare Breed worker interviewed in the film.
Rare Breed does not, however, function as an emergency shelter.
“Technically in the Springfield area we are lacking emergency shelter” said Rare Breed’s Samantha Sudduth.
Sudduth said with two services combined there are only six beds at any time. All services consistently turn youth away due to lack of space.
Audience members asked about medical services available and possibilities of families reuniting. According to the panel, the three main causes that lead to homelessness for youth are alcohol and drug abuse in the home, exposure to trauma and experiencing homelessness with family in the past.
According to Shirk, 75 percent of unsheltered youth experience trauma within 12 hours of being on the streets.
Others asked about what individuals can do to help in the community.
“We always need volunteers and that’s the best way to help out,” Misty Boone, childcare coordinator at Harmony House said. “Also taking this information that you learn tonight and spreading it to everyone that you know.”
November is National Homelessness & Awareness Month. Shrik wanted the take away from this event to be educational rights for homeless youth.
“I’m able to help educate our community and our staff members about educational rights for homeless youth because these are rights that are there’s under the federal law and that not very many people know about,” Skirk said.
Also participating in the panel discussion were Holly Hunt, Timmarie Hamilton, and Jeff Rens.