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Agency Launches 24/7 Services to Help Homeless Youth

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Thursday, January 4, 2018   

PARK RIDGE, Ill. -- A program that helps homeless young women in Illinois is taking a new approach with the new year.

The Harbour began in 1971 and now serves 39 communities in the state, offering a safe place to stay for girls and young women. Executive Director Kris Salyards said in a tense situation or crisis, people who need help aren't always able to talk on the phone. So, an initiative called "Harbour 24/7" now allows them to text.

Salyards said the Harbour is also using Facebook and Instagram to reach out to young people.

"A lot of them are couch-surfing, or just bouncing from place to place, and so counting unaccompanied homeless youth is a challenge for all agencies providing services,” Salyards said. "So, we thought if we could get our hands on some texting data, we could probably start to identify the need in our own neighborhoods."

She said new pamphlets describing homeless services are also being distributed through police departments, high schools, local township offices and other nonprofit agencies.

One national study puts the rate of youth homelessness at more than 9 percent, both in rural and urban areas. About half of those kids report feeling unsafe when sleeping on the streets or couch-surfing.

Salyards said the number of homeless young people has been on the increase. She cited a variety of reasons, including abuse and poverty. Others are runaways, or have been locked out by adults at home.

"Identifying as LGBT is another primary reason for young people to become homeless,” she said. "Forty percent of youth identifying as homeless are also LGBT, when approximately 7 percent of the adolescent population identifies as LGBT."

She said recent financial troubles at the Illinois State House have meant some agencies weren't able to provide services to homeless young people. And the federal government has also cut spending for social-service programs. That means providers have had to be creative to continue the services that help kids.


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