Park Place Outreach is Thankful to Connect Savannah for Highlighting our Efforts to Combat Youth Homelessness
As teens across the Coastal Empire and Low Country go back to school, here at Park Place Outreach we are thankful for Jessica Leigh Lebos at Connect Savannah for shining a light on the homeless youth population in and around Savannah, and how Park Place works every day to make an impact. Please find an excerpt of her article below:
“There are an estimated 1.3 million homeless teens wandering around America, with an estimated 700-1100 living in or passing through Savannah at any given time. For them, the start of the school year will come and go without getting lost on the way to homeroom or someone nagging them that their oatmeal is getting cold. According to the U.S. Dept. of Education, 90 percent won’t graduate from high school at all, squashing their opportunities before they’ve even begun to think about what they’d like to be when they grow up.
Many of these kids have been kicked out of their homes or have run away from abusive situations; others have been lured away with predatorial promises of adventure only to find themselves stranded. A blessed few find their way to Park Place Outreach, Inc., a sunny, cozy bungalow on Henry Street that serves as a shelter and resource center solely for those aged 11-17.
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 1984, the 12-bed respite offers safety, counseling, meals, tutorials, non-judgment and unconditional support to teens in crisis. The biggest challenge, says Park Place Executive Director Linda Hilts, is getting them to accept it.
‘You know young people, they want to be independent,’ she shrugged with a small smile as she led me on a tour of the halls last week. I may have rolled my eyes in agreement.
A 20 year veteran of Park Place, Linda explained that many teens don’t want to classify themselves as victims or runaways, even those who have been caught up in human trafficking or exploited by sexual predators. Often kids are referred by Safe Shelter, the Salvation Army, the Inner City Night Shelter and other organizations that work to provide a net for those who find themselves on the streets.
‘We have to have strong partnerships in this community. We could not do it alone.’
I didn’t meet any current residents due to Park Place’s strict confidentiality policy, but I spent some time with Kenneth Brown, who runs the Street Outreach Team that dispatches a crew of friendly mentors ages 18-21 all over the city, handing out care packages of toiletries and snacks and offering services. He tells me hard tales of a 15 year-old girl abandoned with no ID in a hotel by her pimp and a mentally-disabled young man trying to find his way home to Boston, who benefited from a free bus ticket care of Greyhound’s Home Free Agreement.
While not everybody is a success story, Kenneth has seen compassionate intervention turn teen lives around.
‘This can be the difference between a good life and ending up in the juvenile justice system, which increases their chances of becoming incarcerated adults,’ says Kenneth, a Savannah native and Savannah State grad who has been working in social services for 24 years.
‘We are here to redirect youth to help themselves become self-sufficient, and maybe raise their own families someday.’
Part of Park Place’s mission is to reunite teens with their families whenever possible. Fran Lowery-Wilson offers support classes as part of a comprehensive counseling program designed to help parents navigate the confounding journey of raising children. In her 70s, Fran agrees that today’s teenagers come with even more opaque operating instructions than ever.
‘Parents today have a different job. You’re dealing with a different culture, one that revolves around social media,’ she sympathizes.
‘It’s so much harder to control what kind of things they’re exposed to or who they’re contacting.’
All of Park Place’s services are free, supported by federal funds that must be matched locally through grants from the United Way and other community organizations. There is always need for donations of gently used clothing, bathroom supplies, snacks, games, books and gift cards. The lovely house—the first LEED-certified non-profit in the state—is completely paid off, so every dollar goes towards direct care.
Before I left, Linda reminded, ‘there are no bad kids here. Just young people in need of guidance.'”
To read Jessica Leigh Lebos’ full article please visit Connect Savannah HERE