Organizations target growing homeless youth population in Lynchburg

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)-- In Lynchburg, a rise in homeless young people has multiple agencies banding together. They're working on a new program to focus resources on this group specifically.

On any given night, there are more and more young people in Lynchburg without a place to go.

“This is a population that has really been ignored and we need to turn our attention to it,” said Kristen Nolen, Director of Housing Services for Miriam’s House.

Every year the Continuum of Care does a Point-in-Time count of homelessness in Lynchburg. The count showed less people homeless at a "point-in-time" in the city compared to last year, even though overall homelessness for Lynchburg continues to rise. The COC attributes that to people being homeless for shorter periods of time because of more resources available.

This year’s data was broken down and evaluated by four vulnerable sub-groups: veterans, families, chronically homeless and youth (ages 18-24).

Each sub-group went down since last year, except for the youth sub-group. In 2017, there were seven homeless youth in the “Point in Time” count. In 2018, there were 18 homeless youth counted.

Across the Continuum of Care, the youth homeless group is the only sub-group that does not have a program targeting the issue.

“I did meet a homeless youth who was staying in Miller Park and she really felt like there weren't enough services that were tailored to her that understood her experience,” said Nolen.

The team at Miriam's House is hoping to fix that. They're building off a program they already have called “Community First” which targets families with children. Since they started the program four years ago the number of homeless families has gone from 87 to 28.

Now, Community First will expand to focus on youth as well. The program will offer rapid rehousing, rental assistance, wrap around support and mental health services from Horizon Behavioral Health.

According to Miriam’s House, the youth homeless population is especially vulnerable. Working with Horizon goes hand in hand with their mission and they hope it will help decrease recidivism.

"They are often with untreated mental illness, substance use, this age group tends to age out of child services and may not be eligible for adult services so we have gaps in care,” said Shimila Keenum, a therapist with Horizon Behavior Health working with these young adults.

Horizon received a 2.2 million dollar grant in the fall of 2017 to treat this population. The grant is from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and is called Coordinated Approaches to Benefit Homeless Individuals (CABHI).

"They’re starting to feel safe, supported and some of them are not actually used to feeling that,” said Keenum.

There is no silver bullet for homelessness, but it's not stopping this team from finding a solution.

"Our vision is that we would end homelessness in our community and so far we're doing it population by population,” said Keenum.