City adds $700K in beds, services for homeless youth

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Donald Jackson, 23, speaks about life as a homeless teen. He is now working with the city to ramp up shelter beds and services to help homeless youth.

In response to a rapid increase in youth homelessness over the past four years, the city announced Tuesday it will dedicate $700,000 to pay for additional beds, job training, employment and counseling for people 18-24.

“We are here to tell our most vulnerable young people, our children, that they matter, that we care, that we are there for them,” said Councilwoman Helen Gym, who, along with council and the administration secured the new funding. “They won’t face their challenges alone. We’ll be standing up as a city with them.”

At last count, 527 unaccompanied young adults lived in emergency or transitional housing in the city and a point-in-time count found 25 sleeping out on the streets. Those who track youth homelessness say the number of youth with “unstable housing,” is much higher, likely in the 4,000 to 6,000 range.

In the past four years, the number of high school students in Philadelphia who have experienced homelessness has increased 73 percent - that works out to one out of every 20 high school students in the city.

Last year, 252 young adults aged out of the foster care system without a permanency plan, according to the city's Department of Human Services.

The $700,000 contract will go toward 50 new beds, job training and employment support for 75 homeless youth and counseling and mentoring for 40 LGBTQ youth.

Five private providers were contracted to expand services and shelter: The Attic Youth Center, Covenant House PA, Pathways PA, Valley Youth House, and Youth Service, Inc.

Donald Jackson, 23, was kicked out of his home by his mother who suffers from mental illness, when he was 18.

Jackson couch surfed for a few months before landing at Covenant House, a shelter for young adults. He was lucky. The shelter turns away more than 500 people each year due to lack of space.

Jackson worked two jobs to get himself back on his feet.

Now he has his own apartment and works at Action Wellness, a nonprofit helping people living with chronic illness.

“Not everyone is fortunate enough to handle responsibilities, bills, the things an 18-year-old, a 21-year-old even, usually has people to help them deal with,” Jackson said. “It’s so important to provide that underlying support. At 18 you’re trying to figure out your life, and then even at 21, who’s responsible at 21?”

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