Speakers address issue of homeless ME youth
Realities of Youth Homelessness in Maine, a panel held on Thursday, Nov. 17, began with the anonymous story from a student of the College: “I couch surfed for a couple of years before I officially became an unaccompanied, throwaway teen; that is, a homeless youth.”
Dana Roberts ’12, director of the Colby Volunteer Center (CVC), read the student’s story to open the evening’s conversation featuring Tony Veit, youth outreach officer in Maine, Bodhi Simpson, teen parent program director and clinician and Betty Palmer, executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter (MMHS). The evening marked a halfway point in the CVC’s month-long efforts to contribute $10,000 to the $2.75 million capital campaign,“Breaking Ground, Rebuilding Lives, which is dedicated to building a new MMHS. Roberts, who facilitated the panel, said that the CVC hopes “to raise awareness on campus,” and invest the College in the issue of homelessness.
Though Viet, Simpson and Palmer spoke about their tireless work and shared success stories of homeless youth finding respite, the overwhelming theme of the night was that there is not enough governmental or structural support for the homeless in the United States and especially for the youth.
The panelists spoke honestly about the stark reality that many teenagers face with limited resources and no place to sleep. Many teens turn to couch-surfing, or moving around from place to place, depending on where there are places to sleep.
Simpson spoke about her experience with teens, often pregnant or parenting, wandering in off the street, looking for a place to stay. “A lot of them are looking for a place to live,” she said, “and I don’t have a place to send them, so I often have to send them back onto the street.”
She told the story of a 16-year-old who came to her last winter before Christmas. Her mother had just passed away and she never knew her biological father. During this time, she found out she was pregnant and her boyfriend was going to jail. She had been living with her older sister, who turned out not to be her legal guardian. Simpson worked with her to locate her biological father—they found him, but he had passed away a week earlier. Meanwhile, the girl and her sister got into a fight and her sister kicked her out.
Simpson worked with her to find places to stay the night couch-surfing, but they were not always successful. During four winter months, it was touch and go whether or not she would sleep on the street each night, but eventually Simpson helped her to get emancipated by the State. “Homelessness—I call it the logistical diagnosis,” Viet said. “It has this impact of symptoms that you can’t follow through on anything if you keep moving. And not because people are lazy or anything; it just becomes very challenging because you can’t receive mail at your new address…you don’t have an alarm clock at your new address, you don’t know how to get to school from your new address. The impact of moving around so much really undoes any other plan you intend to do,” he said.