Demand is Up for Teen Shelters

By: Dana Brueck
By: Dana Brueck

One of Dane County's neediest groups has the fewest options for emergency shelter -- homeless teens. Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin report an increase in teens seeking a place to stay, but teens have no shelter of their own.

"We're on State Street a lot because there's lot of opportunities for teens on State Street, but we also go to schools, malls, community centers ... all over," Aaron Backer of Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin says.

All this effort is in hopes to reach out and connect with what some call a hidden population in desperate need.

Backer says, "If a teen is on the street, they're not going to school and they're not getting proper nutrition. Also, they may need medical assistance, which they're not going to seek on their own, so they're at risk physically, but again, the community will suffer.

Backer's non-profit organization says statistics from the City of Madison already show a community suffering from the plight of runaway, throwaway, or homeless teens.

"What has been on the increase is the demand for shelter," Backer says.

The demand for emergency shelter has increased almost 500-percent in the last ten years.

"Teens that we can't do counseling with family and let them return home because home may not be safe or parents don't want them any longer," he says.

Ready to take kids off the street and into their home are volunteers like Vicki Berenson and Shel Gross.

"We'll feed them. Often they'll want to shower," Gross says.

The report also shows more than 70-percent who seek help say they spend their nights either on the street or in cars.

Gross says, "Generally, kids come in and they're pretty tired. They've had a hard day, one way or another because they're in a situation that brings them there."

They give a teen, who might have fled a troubled or abusive home, a safe place to stay for one or two nights.

Vicki Berenson says, "Here's a way where you don't have to expend a whole lot of energy or resources to really make a difference in someone's life."

Another night on the street is another night at risk.

"The longer the teen is on the street, the riskier their lives become," Backer says.

The report shows minorities and females are most at risk.

Youth Services also provides free family counseling and a 24-hour helpline for teens.

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