Madison teen homeless shelter aims to get kids off the street - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Madison teen homeless shelter aims to get kids off the street


MADISON (WKOW) -- A Madison youth organization is working to build the first teen homeless shelter in Dane County.

When it gets cold, many people who are homeless turn to local shelters. Unfortunately, the adult shelters won't let in anyone under 18-years-old and a teenager can't go to a family shelter on their own.

Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin has been trying to get a handle on teen homelessness in our area for years. Executive director Casey Behrend estimates 200 to 250 unaccompanied youth in Dane County are struggling to find a place to stay every night. He says that number could be closer to 500.

"99% of the time, the homeless youth resulted from some sort of family conflict or difficulty, sometimes kids end up being neglected or abused at home," says Behrend. "A lot of them end up couch surfing, a few nights with this friend, a few nights with that friend, and they'll continue that process. Some of them end up sleeping in cars."
Behrend says others turn to strangers, which can lead to particularly dangerous situations and put the teenager at risk of sexual assault, sex trafficking or getting into drugs.
Right now, Youth Services can only offer teens a "host home" for one to two days. Those arrangements are made through the organization's homeless youth service called Briarpatch. 
The new shelter will provide eight beds inside the new building on Rimrock Road. Both boys and girls can stay there for up to a month, ages 13-17. The facility will also be home to Youth Services' offices, so staff will be able to provide resources to help the teenagers find permanent housing and fill other needs.
"It gives them a safe, immediate option to get off the streets and out of dangerous situations and it gives us some time to work with them to get them back on the right path," Behrend says.
One of those resources is keeping homeless teenagers in school. Madison Metropolitan School District staff work to provide support to the students who have no permanent home.
"For us, everything starts with education, so our first priority for our kids who are unaccompanied youth is to get them into school, establish positive attendance patterns," says Nancy Yoder, director of student services and alternative education at MMSD. "We start with really basic things, like making sure they have the school supplies that they need, making sure they have a bus pass that they can get to and from school easily."
MMSD is required by the federal government to track the number of homeless students in the district. This school year, there are 37 students identified as unaccompanied youth, those who don't have a caregiver.
There are 933 students listed as homeless overall, including families with students who are staying with friends or family but have no permanent home of their own.
The school works to make sure the students' basic needs are met, providing free and reduced lunches along with helping the students obtain medical care.
Yoder says the new shelter will be an important step for the community that's really needed.
The construction is expected to be completed in March, with the shelter opening by July. Behrend anticipates a cost of about $2.2 million, some to be covered by the sale of a previous property owned by Youth Services. He says they'll also start a fundraising campaign soon.
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