Outreach event for homeless teens Thursday, Oct. 28

Kids in Sweet Home who don’t have their own place to go home to at night will get a boost Thursday, Oct. 28, at the Sweet Home Skatepark.

Jackson Street Youth Services, which operates two 24-seven shelters for homeless youth in Albany and Corvallis, will host a Skatepark After Dark event at the park, located next door to the Sweet Home School District Administration Offices at 1957 Long St. from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The event is a free resource fair for youth ages 10-24. Hot meals, hot chocolate, winter supplies, COVID-19 bags (which contain thermometers, hand sanitizer and masks), and snack bags will be handed out by two or three representatives from Jackson Street.

While the organization has been running Skate Park After Dark events since 2014, this will be only the second year the resource fair has been in Sweet Home.

Last year, “quite a number of youth came by,” said Hannah Miller, development director at Jackson Street.

Explaining why the interaction takes place at skateparks, Miller said, “a lot of our outreach focus is on connecting with youth where they are at, and skateparks are where a lot of young people are hanging out.”

There are other ways that Jackson Street has been reaching out to Sweet Home’s youth.

Miller said that the Sweet Home School District’s homeless liaison, Kristi Walker, is one of Jackson Street’s “main connectors” to Sweet Home youth who need services.

In addition, she said that her organization has had a presence at Sankey Park weekly “for quite a long time, building trust and relationships with youth and young adults.

Jackson Street is also working on a partnership with the Sweet Home Public Library to do outreach and hold meet-ups with mentors and mentees.

In the last year Jackson Street has served youth from Sweet Home in both their 24/7 shelter for minors (10-17 year olds) as well as in their longer term housing program for young adults.

Nationwide, 1 in 30 youth (under the age of 18) experience some form of homelessness in a given year. For young adults (under 24), that number is 1 in 10.

Miller said that homelessness in youth is “often a lot harder to see in rural communities.”

“Youth are incredibly creative and resilient,” Miller said. “Sometimes youth homelessness can take the form of couch surfing, bouncing from home to home. But these kids are not always in safe homes and safe situations. We all carry these images of what chronically adult homeless people look like, but these stereotypes don’t necessarily hold up for homeless youth.”

Miller pointed to the pandemic as potentially exacerbating homeless issues. “The pandemic has been extremely hard on already vulnerable families, the ones who already had tendencies for neglect, abuse and other struggles.”

However, Miller said the number of youth at Jackson Street’s shelters have not been as high as they were pre-pandemic. But she expects the numbers to “increase significantly as we come back into school,” because “we are going to be able to connect with school councils and other caring community members who haven’t had their eyes on young people.”

Miller said that the pandemic has also shifted the nature of Jackson Street’s outreach efforts. “A lot of it has pivoted to education around COVID, providing things like masks and hand sanitizer, and giving information about COVID and the vaccines,” she said.