Local organizations assist homeless youth

MANISTEE — Homelessness can affect anyone in the community, while many of those affected are under the age of 25 years old and have families of their own.

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week runs until Nov. 19, which aims to spread awareness and assist those living in poverty. The initiative is held before Thanksgiving to remind others to help those who are less fortunate.

This week many local organizations are stepping forward to help the homeless.

However, one organization within Manistee County, Staircase Youth Services Inc., has been primarily focused on assisting youth in Northern Michigan since 1979.

Cindy Arneson, executive director of Staircase, said youth living in poverty could be anywhere in the community.

“During Homeless Awareness Week, I would like to remind the community that there are homeless youth in Manistee County,” said Arneson. “They may not be sleeping on the streets, but I assure you they are couch surfing from house to house without a place to call home.”

While poverty is often a subject left out of the limelight, Arneson said others should remember that homelessness has no face — it can affect anyone.

“Staring at the wall in my office, I see a picture of my daughter wearing a hoodie and looking forlorn,” said Arneson. “It’s a picture that Staircase Youth Services used for a television advertisement several years ago.

“I am reminded that the face of homelessness is diverse and arbitrary. My daughter could have been one of the many homeless youth we serve had she been born into a different family.”

Around the nation, the number of youth experiencing homelessness has rapidly increased.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 2016 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report found, on a single night in 2016, 549,928 people experienced homelessness in the United States.

In 2016, HUD found on a single night in January 2016, there were 35,686 unaccompanied homeless youth.

With that, unaccompanied homeless youth accounted for roughly 7 percent of the total homeless population, and 10 percent of people experienced homelessness as individuals.

“Through no fault of their own, young kids in Manistee County are finding themselves homeless, doubled-up or couch surfing from place-to-place,” said Arneson. “The reasons are as diverse as the faces.”

However, many of the youth experiencing homelessness in Michigan have children of their own. HUD found that another 9,800 people were in families, where the parent was under the age of 25 years old.

Many local children are also facing poverty, with the effects carrying on into their school lives.

Shelly VanVoorst, director of Casman Academy, said at Casman Academy in Manistee, various students are using or qualify for free or reduced lunches. The homeless population at Casman is currently one third of its entire population.

“Of our small population — nearly 60 students — we have at least 20 percent right now who are homeless or doubled up, and about 90 percent of our population qualifies for free or reduced lunch,” said VanVoorst.

VanVoorst said the school also offers a food pantry, clothes pantry and the school works with local agencies, as well.

“We work with local agencies to connect them with things like heating, food sources or even housing,” she said. “We work with Staircase very closely, and we have a Staircase agent that comes to the school once a week to speak with students that are at risk.”

With the numbers of homeless youth rising, the need for housing has become dire.

That’s why, Staircase has a program centered around housing homeless youth.

“The goals of our programs are to strengthen families and promote positive youth development,” said Arneson.

Within the past year, Arneson said Staircase touched the lives of 135 youth and families in Manistee County in an attempt to keep families together and prevent homelessness.

The agency also assisted six homeless youth to secure safe and appropriate housing for their needs.

“Staircase uses a host home model for housing homeless youth, because we do not have a shelter,” she said. “Young people between the ages of 17 years old to 21 years old are matched with a host home that provides housing, mentoring and support to the young person as they work with the Staircase staff to reach their goals.”

As Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week continues, Arneson said others can actively make a difference in the lives of those facing hunger and poverty in the community.

To learn more about becoming a host home, contact Staircase at (231) 843-3200.

“Together we can make the difference in a young person’s life,” said Arneson.



Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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