helping our local homeless youth

I was recently contacted by Peri Stone-Palmquist, the coordinator of the Education Project for Homeless Youth in Washtenaw County, and asked if I would mention a February sock and underwear drive being held on behalf of the young people they work with. I agreed, and took the opportunity to ask her a few quick questions about what she’s doing, the kids she’s working with and what other ways we might be able to help:

Mark: How many homeless kids do you think that we have in Ypsilanti?

Peri: Last school year, we served more than 150 in Willow Run and Ypsi Schools (412 for the whole county). As of Jan. 5, we had 78 in those 2 districts.

These numbers don’t really capture the whole picture, of course, because we have a number of students who start the school year in Ann Arbor and living in Ann Arbor, but then end up in Ypsilanti. Because of federal law, we are able to keep them in Ann Arbor schools for the rest of the school year in most cases.

Mark: So, if I’m understanding this correctly, you’re working exclusively with homeless kids currently enrolled in the public school system, and, last year, you were working with 412 students in Washtenaw Country. And, in the first week of ’09, you had already worked with 78 kids in the Willow Run and Ypsi school school districts. Would I be wrong to assume that 78 is an increase from last year at this time?

Peri: 412 either going to school or living in Washtenaw County last year, yes.

I don’t have a good apples-to-apples comparison for you (I can’t find my count from last December or January), but when I checked earlier in the year, we were up more than 30 percent over last year countywide and it seems to be getting worse.

Last year at the end of February, we had 96 kids in Willow Run and Ypsi schools, and we already had 78 as break was finishing up. I know we’re up over 80 now and I am waiting on several referrals this week from those districts.

Homeless service providers (myself included) are generally seeing tougher cases this year as well. It’s so much harder for families to find jobs, so they’re languishing in homeless situations for longer.

And I don’t necessarily see more of this than last year, but I’m always profoundly struck by the number of teens who have been kicked out of their parent’s homes at age 16, 17, 18, 19. Jobs are REALLY hard for them to come by and with no support, they are really scraping by. A friend or relative may be generous enough to let them sleep on a couch but forget about providing clothing. There are a lot of heartbreaking situations.

Mark: What services are available to homeless youth in the area, through your organization and others? Is there a comprehensive list somewhere?

Peri: Are you familiar with 211? That’s the comprehensive list of all social services.

In a nutshell, the Education Project provides referrals, school supplies, advocacy, school transportation coordination, educational supervision and support, dropout prevention outreach and pay for education-related expenses and credit recovery classes. We’re trying to keep kids in 1 school for the school year despite moving around a lot and trying to remove any barriers to a successful and normal education experience. This can take many forms. We’ve had kids miss school because they had no shoes to wear. We’ve had parents call us desperate because they had no money for gas to drive their children to school. We’ve had teens living on their own and no school would admit them — they just keep getting turned away and they’re about ready to give up. We’ve set up job shadowing opportunities that have boosted school attendance and connection. We’ve paid for (and supported) credit recovery classes that have allowed homeless teens to graduate on time, even amidst lots of chaos in their life. I could go on but hopefully that helps paint the picture.

Other providers for homeless children…
Ozone House, one of our partners, provides emergency shelter, transitional living, drop-in center, counseling, emergency food. SOS Community Services has a therapeutic daycare (free), tutoring, Girl’s Scouts, summer program and other programming.

And then there all the other great youth-serving agencies our kids can tap into, including Corner Health Clinic, Neutral Zone, Peace Neighborhood Center, etc. The school districts do a lot, too. Ypsi Schools has their own clothes closet, for instance. We know many schools in Ann Arbor have helped our families get clothes, food and when they do get permanently housed, household items. We work with all these partners for our families and kids — trying to make sure their needs are met.

Mark: And I hear that you’re accepting donations at Beezy’s here in Ypsi – is there anywhere else? And, what would you recommend to folks here in the community who wanted to get more involved relative to this issue?

Peri: To get more involved, people can contact me (pstone@wash.k12.mi.us). I have a list of people I can call on in emergencies when a specific needs pop up that we can’t meet in the community. We also have a school supply drive every fall and a holiday gift drive in Nov/Dec.

If people want to work directly with these kids, I would recommend volunteering through SOS, which has a tutoring program for students who are homeless, or Ozone House.

Donations of new, unopened packages of underwear and socks in all sizes are being accepted at the front desk of the Teaching and Learning Center at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, 1819 S. Wagner in Ann Arbor, between Liberty and Scio Church, from 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. In addition, the following local businesses have agreed to partner with The Education Project on this clothing drive and will serve as collection points. They are:

• Morgan and York, 1928 Packard in Ann Arbor, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday or 12-6 p.m. Sundays.

• Mast Shoes, 2517 Jackson Road in Ann Arbor, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday or Saturday, and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

• Beezy’s Café, 20 N. Washington in downtown Ypsilanti, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

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10 Comments

  1. Posted January 29, 2009 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    Four hundred and twelve?

    I feel incredibly naive right now. I had no idea numbers like that existed around here. Thanks for posting this, I’ll be sure to drop some items off.

  2. Posted January 29, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    What percentage are youth who insist on leaving home at age 17 and then tell everyone they’ve been kicked out?

  3. Peri Stone-Palmquist
    Posted January 29, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a percentage at my fingertips, but research definitely shows that a high proportion of kids who runaway have been abused or there is drug/alcohol abuse in the home. Regardless, kids living without a parent or guardian are at huge risk of dropping out of school. The needs they have are immense.

  4. EOS
    Posted January 29, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    PSP –

    I think you need to differentiate between homeless families and runaway teens. Runaway teens need to be returned home or placed in a foster care situation. Enabling them to live on the streets only sets them up for further exploitation.

    Ten years ago I worked with a 45 y/o single man who was a volunteer for Ozone House. His “volunteer” service was to allow runaways to sleep on his couch. Ozone House has a few short-term rooms available for runaways, but places the majority in unsupervised private homes. My co-worker had a succession of runaways sleeping on his couch. I won’t contribute financially to Ozone House and wish my tax dollars didn’t support their services since they deliberately seek to attract LGBTQ minors and then place them in situations where they are at serious risk for sexual exploitation.

  5. Posted January 29, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Runaway, homeless, gay, straight – makes no difference…a person in need is a person in need – especially youths.

    Good job Mr. Maynard for posting this. You can count me in for donations.

  6. Peri Stone-Palmquist
    Posted January 29, 2009 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    EOS: Thanks for your concern about runaway youth being exploited. They are at risk for sure.

    By federal law, I must serve runaway youth if they qualify as “homeless.” We do differentiate between homeless families and unaccompanied youth. To parse out who is a “throw-away” and a “run-away” can be quite tricky because teens often do not want to share why they no longer live with a parent or guardian. My small staff — as well as Ozone’s — works hard to build trust with these youth and help them live safe, successful lives.

    You talk about foster care …. We do involve Child Protective Services for those 17 and younger, but this is, of course, complicated. Sometimes, the youth has, on the surface, a safe place to stay — or the parent does the bare minimum and when pressed by CPS, says the child can come home (but it often doesn’t last).

    I know of no formal or informal program at Ozone where they encourage anyone to “harbor” runaways (and I know many staff members on a personal level). They will not take a minor in without parental consent at the shelter. I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had a bad experience with Ozone — because what I’ve seen of their work has been most impressive. They are truly compassionate and help some youth who have really been deserted.

  7. Posted January 29, 2009 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Just to let everyone know, EoS doesn’t know what the fuck s/he is talking about. Ozone does a great job for kids that people otherwise wouldn’t give two shits about.

  8. kjc
    Posted January 30, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Haha. Well sometimes we agree, Dude. My thought exactly.

  9. Amanda
    Posted February 2, 2009 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    where did the rest of the list of drop-off businesses go? it was cut off from the end of the post. and yes, ozone is an amazing and trustworthy organization… and peri, you do amazing and valuable work– thank you for sharing more about it!

  10. Posted February 2, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure what happened, Amanda. They must have been lost in the transition to the new site. I’ll put them back up… Thanks for letting me know.

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