Story: Christopher Smith
Multimedia: Garland Young
Most youth worry about what to wear to the school dance or what sports to play, but some, only worry about where they’ll safely lay their head for the night.
The city offers services and resources for the Baltimore homeless population such as shelters, food banks and soup kitchens through churches or non-profit organizations. According to the Counting Matters: Baltimore City Homeless Point-in-Time Census Report 2011, there was a 19.7 percent rise in the homeless population, with 17 percent of the sheltered population being youth.
A new group housed downtown, Youth Empowered Society (YES), is focusing its efforts on being a support system for the city’s homeless youth with its drop-in resource center.
“If there’s very immediate needs we try to learn about those and learn what kind of resources and services that we can offer them here that we have or that we can help connect them to,” said Lara Law, YES Drop-In Center director.
The YES Drop-in Center offers to homeless and unstably housed youth resources like meals, hygiene products, clothing, transportation, counseling, computer services, rental assistant, etc. Young people come in from the streets and are assessed to figure out their needs which may be food, housing, childcare providers and legal services. The YES staff tries to offer services and activities that help solve or cope with youth’s problems.
Currently, the ages of the youth that enter the center range from 14-25. With this range of ages comes a range of problems such as unemployment, aging out of foster care and not being independently stable financially.
“Some people are just…getting by,” Law said. “Their lives are kind of chaotic, if they don’t have a way to earn enough to keep themselves going then they’re always panhandling or engaged in some activity that’s getting them in trouble. One kid who was here last week was hiding out, because he owed some guy money and he already been sort of beaten up and then threatened again. They’re just in bad cycles.”
YES started the Charles Street center in October with the funding help of sponsors and now have over a dozen youth that they assist. The staff is putting focus into community outreach to both increase the amount of youth helped by the center and bring in more donations.
Some organizations that sponsor, help or partner with YES include Fusion Partnerships, Moveable Feast, Star Track and the Open Society Institute (OSI). Law is a Baltimore community fellow for OSI, this helped with the funding to establish the YES Drop-in Center.
“From August until now it has really transformed from an idea to a functional facility,” said Harriet Smith, Program Coordinator of the YES Drop-in Center. “All of the ideas of what a wonderful center can be and actually nailing things up on the wall, fixing things and thinking about how people are going to interact with the center. All that had to happen, a lot of progress.”
With YES making progress and meeting goals, they have future aspirations of expanding what the drop-in center offers to youth. The staff looks to bring in more youth, educational programs and support groups.
“One of the things that we really need I think is a shelter connected to a drop-in program like this,” Law said. “Particularly for the 18-24 year old group, because they’re by in large unwilling to go to the adult shelters. Because they don’t associate as chronically homeless and they’re scared of that and the problems people have there.”