The numbers are hard to nail down, but they’re sobering any way you look at them. These are the best estimates we could formulate from the numbers we found.
- There are 1.6 million homeless children and teens in the United States.
- 80,000 of them are unaccompanied by parents.
- At least 50% of homeless teens have experienced abuse. Many are homeless because they ran away from abusive households.
- 70% of homeless teens use drugs and/or alcohol to medicate the pain of their situation.
- Close to home: There are 3,000 homeless children in grades K-12 in Spokane County alone.
We have to do something.
Ryan Brown, UGM’s Youth Outreach director, is resolved to make the most of every resource at his disposal. “25 years ago this spring I checked into the Men’s Shelter in Spokane, Washington, as a homeless meth addict. All that journey started when I was about 8 years old – that led to drugs, that led to more severe things in my life. So it’s such an honor to be back in this city working with kids who are headed in the same direction.”
Under Ryan’s direction the past few years, one word stands out to describe Youth Outreach: growth.
Until very recently, UGM Youth Outreach referred to two ministries: A team working with inmates in Juvenile Detention and UGM Camp for elementary and middle-schoolers from low-income Spokane neighborhoods.
These are still very important ministries. But Youth Outreach is growing rapidly in other areas as well, to attack the problem of homelessness earlier and from other angles - through Prevention, Redemption, and Direction.
If we want to end homelessness, the best way is to prevent it. We want to keep kids off the destructive paths and get them out of generational cycles that can hold them back for the rest of their lives. For many who have never had a stable home and loving family, it is very difficult even to dream of a better life because they’ve literally never seen it.
As more children in America suffer “adultolescence” – experiencing trauma and being exposed to destructive influences at younger and younger ages – it’s crucial that we reach them young with the Gospel’s message of hope, to guard them from the confusion and false beliefs that increase their vulnerability to the addictions and abusive situations that fuel the cycle of homelessness.
But that has to happen one child at a time.
UGM Camp is still the granddaddy of Youth Outreach, allowing about 500 children each year from low-income urban neighborhoods to experience a week of summer camp free of charge. It’s done in partnership with church congregations in these neighborhoods, committed to continuing relationships with the kids after they get home.
What does it mean to the campers? Here’s a note one of them wrote at the end of the week: “It is really fun and it’s free and we get to learn about God. And it’s a good place to be when you need a break from your house. And the counselors are awesome.”
Positive, uplifting relationships, a break from home stresses, a chance to know the Creator who made them for a purpose and loves them more than anyone else could. That’s what UGM Camp means.
The Young Club, You Club and Impact after-school programs have gained a huge amount of traction at elementary and middle schools, helping with academics, exploring each young person’s personality and gifts, and focusing on how to give back by serving others. The programs build relationships one-on-one between pre-teens/teens and young adults who provide a positive example and a supportive adult in their lives.
College students also have an impact on homeless children in UGM shelters. Children like Calvin, who was struggling in school and in danger of having to repeat fifth grade. Calvin was befriended by a Student Impact Team member who volunteered to help Calvin with homework, and had a lot of fun together. A few weeks later, Calvin's mom came into the shelter director's office with his report card: Mostly B’s, even an A. She cried as she expressed her gratitude for the loving support her son received at the shelter.
As we know all too well, many children and teenagers have already made mistakes or are in traumatic or unstable situations: estranged from parents, couch surfing at a friend’s house, addicted to drugs or alcohol, dropped out of school, already saddled with a criminal record. Over and over, we hear from teenagers in these situations, “I don’t have a future.”
For these young people, it’s crucial that we help them buy back their future, and that means they have to be persuaded that they are worth it. Youth Outreach meets young people where they are and encourages them to dream big: Change is possible. They are valuable.
Clothing Co-op makes sure young people have appropriate clothing to wear for school and other events. Many other mentoring relationships have developed in this context, as students feel loved and accepted as they are.
The Juvenile Detention ministry involves Student Impact Team members and others sharing the Gospel and developing friendships with the young inmates on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The Student Impact Center is housed in the former Crisis Shelter for Women and Children on East Sprague. Resident interns at the center are college students committed to urban ministry. They welcome homeless and hurting young people with laundry services, a clothing co-op, showers, food and friendship.
Direction primarily means training young adults to fulfill their calling to urban ministry and be prepared to take ownership of that ministry in the Inland Northwest. These young people are a phenomenal resource: They have energy, enthusiasm, passion and new ideas – they just need a channel and a starting point. That’s where UGM can help.
The Student Impact team involves college students from area schools – did you know there are 15,000 college students in the Inland Northwest? – who want to serve the poor and share the Gospel with them. These young adults are the future of ministry among the homeless in our community. They are the heart and soul of Young Club, the clothing closets, high school mentoring and the Student Impact Center.
The backbone of the Student Impact Team, the resident interns at the Student Impact Center live at the center during the school year and complete at least 8-10 hours a week in ministry training at UGM shelters and other areas. These students love Jesus and bring new energy, innovation and blessing into our ministries.
With such disheartening statistics as the ones at the beginning of this post, these young leaders remind us that God is working, raising up his servants to reach poor and at-risk children and rescue them from the destructive generational cycles they face. Stay tuned to the Impact Blog this month for more from UGM about reaching children at risk of homelessness.
You can give an at-risk child an unforgettable summer camp experience for only $99. Click below to sponsor a camper.