WHEELING, W.Va.—While many older teens are worrying about online classes, COVID and college applications, some are wondering whether they’ll have a roof over their heads tonight.
In one year, about 550,000 youth experience homelessness, according to National Alliance to end Homelessness. Fifty percent of youth facing homelessness are unsheltered and sleeping outside, in a car or somewhere not meant for human habitation.
To help combat local youth homelessness, Youth Services System Inc. is hosting the 10th annual Wheeling SleepOut on Dec. 4. Due to COVID, the event is virtual this year.
The SleepOut is an awareness and fundraising campaign for the YSS Transitional Living Program that offers housing, mentoring and life skills training for youth ages 17-21 who have aged out of foster care or are otherwise facing homelessness.
“We are blessed to have the programs and incredible staff to help youth battle homelessness and staff to save youth from homelessness and guide them to independent living,” said Terra Crews, YSS Special Events coordinator.
Tasha* is one of those youth. She was in the foster care system since birth and was physically and emotionally abused growing up. She was sent to a boarding school at age 10. When it was shut down, rather than being welcomed home she was placed in a shelter. At 17, she went to live with a family friend, but was sent to live at Crittenton Services in Wheeling when she became pregnant. While there, she graduated early from high school and enrolled in college. Now 21, Tasha attends nursing classes at West Virginia Northern Community College while working at a local nursing rehabilitation center and caring for her 3-year-old son.
“It’s hard to balance student, employee and mom duties, but I’m making it happen!” Tasha said. “I love the life God has blessed me with and the support I get from YSS, Youth Opportunities Unlimited and more.” Youth Opportunities Unlimited is a YSS program in conjunction with WorkForce West Virginia that helps youth find and sustain employment.
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This year’s theme is Home for the Holidays. The theme reflects the fact that YSS is home for all the youth in its residential programs, including Transitional Living, two emergency shelters and the Ronald C. Mulholland Juvenile Center. Also driving the theme is that, with COVID-19, more people may be staying home for the holidays. Finally, while SleepOut participants usually build their cardboard structures at the Miracle League Field in the I-470 Sports Complex, this year they will be building them at home, submitting videos of the structure for the judges.
“Our virtual events have been successful this year. Although we miss coming together for special events we are thankful to continue our tradition for our youth virtually,” Crews said.
The goal for the SleepOut is to increase awareness and raise $100,000.
“We’ve set the highest goal in Wheeling SleepOut history because we need to! Youth homelessness is a growing problem. Without the support from our community we would not be able to do what we do for youth facing homelessness.”
Registration is now open for the Boxed-In Design Contest, where participants build a cardboard structure and compete for prizes. New this year is a window display contest for local businesses. The peer-to peer-fundraising competition also is underway. Sponsorships are welcome. For information, please visit www.youthservicessystem.org/events. For questions, email Terra Crews, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 304-218-2834.
* Not her real name.
About Youth Services System, Inc.
Youth Services System, Inc. is committed to responding to the complex needs of youth at serious risk. For 46 years, Youth Services System, Inc. has reached thousands of youth and their families with our shelter, residential, community-based and professional services. Together with youth and their families, we work to improve their physical and emotional well-being, to address the debilitating effects of abuse, addiction, and trauma, and to build the skills and connections they need to be successful. Supported by our volunteer Board of Directors, dedicated staff, and faithful community support, Youth Services System, Inc. makes an impact in the lives of youth. For more information, visit www.youthservicessystem.org.