Coming Together to Help Homeless Youth

As temperatures drop for the winter, many youth in our communities are wondering where they are going to sleep each night. You may see them hanging out during the day in at a park or in the mall, and not know they are without a home. Rather than going to traditional adult shelters, they instead double up or couch surf because it feels safer.

In Boston, thanks to Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ Warming Center, many of these kids have a safe, secure place to stay. As the City of Boston’s only shelter for this age group open this winter, it is a critical resource.

Last week, following the death of an 18-year-old who had been sleeping out on Boston streets, the City expressed their strong concern about the vulnerability of homeless youth on the streets. Bridge is the leading agency to mount a response. Bridge opened its overnight Warming Center, located at its headquarters at 47 West Street, downtown Boston, Monday evening, December 2nd.

Open every night from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., the Warming Center offers a critical array of emergency services including meals, showers, and laundry facilities, in addition to warmth, safety, and supervision by supportive adults. It’s an appropriate alternative to adult homeless shelter for people under age 25. In the Bridge Warming Center, rather than integrating with the adult homeless population, homeless youth gain access to an array program options such as counseling and skill-building to begin a journey towards building a successful life.

United Way has been a proud partner with Bridge for more than 40 years. So when we recently found out there wasn’t enough funding to keep the overnight shelter open through the winter, United Way put forward $30,000 and challenged others to join us. You can help us reach the goal of $120,000 needed to keep it open through March.

“Organizations like Bridge Over Troubled Waters do so much more than provide a warm place for these kids to sleep. When they come in here, they are given not only food and shelter, but support from caring and compassionate adults who can help get them on track toward a more stable, successful future,” said Mike Durkin, President of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “Addressing the issue of youth homelessness is vital to developing a strong community and we need to work together to make sure these young people have access to the support and resources they need.”

We know that the number of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness has been reported to be on the rise locally and nationally. But because of the uncertainty around tracking this population, it’s hard to know for sure. In fact, a recent report from Urban Institute, in which United Way participated locally along with the City of Boston, showed that the problem is widespread across the country.  A forum hosted last spring with United Way and Bank of America brought area stakeholders together to discuss the YouthCount! Initiative and get a better understanding on the depth and prevalence of the issue, while determining best practices and ways we can all work together to tackle the youth homelessness.

United Way is proud to support over 30 youth organizations that connect at-risk and high-risk youth, including those experiencing homelessness, to essential educational, social, employment, and housing services.