Tara, a recent graduate of a local Frederick County public high school, faced a difficult decision several years ago. Either she would remain in her parent’s home, where a dysfunctional environment made it very difficult to stay, or leave and take her chances with another adult living out of state who promised her safety, security and some degree of stability in Tara’s life.
Tara decided for the latter, setting her life on to another direction that now includes college.
(We are using first names only to protect the privacy of the students who let us tell their stories.)
Summer, another Frederick County resident, came back from attending college to her family, which turned her away. Determined to remain in Frederick, and pursue work, Summer was forced to live in her cars for days until friends, who discovered that Summer was homeless, took her in and worked to provide food and care for her.
Both Tara and Summer are examples of the hundreds of thousands of youth who experience homelessness sometime during the course of each year in America. Each became homeless for different reasons, and each was challenged to find security in the midst of the stress and anxiety young people faced when few if any resources exist to help.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s annual Point in Time Survey, there were 111,592 homeless youth and 48,319 homeless young adults counted on a single night in January 2018. These figures are deceptively low as most authorities in the field acknowledge that this population is difficult to locate and identify.
In Maryland alone, according to the bi-annual YouthReach Maryland census and survey conducted in April 2018, throughout much of the state that included Frederick County, there were a total of 2,957 unaccompanied and homeless youth age 16-24 counted during that time.
The data is even more staggering for youth enrolled in Maryland public schools. According to the Maryland State Department of Education, there were over 13,000 public school students (Pre-K through 12th grade) in the state that experienced homelessness sometime during the course of school year 2018-19. In Frederick County alone, 858 students experienced homelessness in the same school year. These figures continue to grow 10-15 percent each year.
Of the most concern for those committed to solving youth homelessness is the significant growth in the number of unaccompanied homeless youth statewide and in specifically in Frederick County.
According to Ed Hinde, Executive Director of Student Homelessness Initiative Partnership (SHIP) of Frederick County, “There were over 200 homeless unaccompanied youth in Frederick County in 2018. These young people have little to no housing options for themselves, and are quite vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation, physical and emotional abuse, and criminal victimization.”
Hinde leads SHIP, a five-year-old nonprofit charity that works closely with Frederick County Public Schools and other local human service organizations in providing support and services for homeless youth in the county. Services for youth include food, new clothing, funding for social/emotional enrichment activities, emergency shelter, and the New Horizons counseling program that works with homeless teens to access resources that will help in completing their secondary education.
“SHIP organized itself at a time when the community was just beginning to realize that our local youth are in great need, and the numbers affected continue to escalate,” said Hinde.
SHIP plans on opening a network of host homes this fall, similar in operation to a foreign exchange student program where youth will be able to reside in a local volunteer host home as a guest while continuing their education. Youth enrolled in the host home program will receive wrap-around supplement services via SHIP’s New Horizons program and counselors.
For Summer, now past her period of homelessness, having the option of accessing a safe, secure and stable housing option would have made a big difference for them both at their time of need. According to Summer, “The uncertainty and anxiety I experienced when living in my car would have been less impactful for me if I had known that I had an option that cared for me at that time.”
Tara, whose time of homelessness was much lengthier, enrolled in SHIP’s New Horizons counseling program two years, and she is now scheduled to attend college in Florida this September.