Homelessness On Rise Among Local Youth

A recent study by the Fredericksburg Continuum of Care showed that the homeless population in Fredericksburg is growing younger, with a 25 percent increase in homeless minors from 2010 to 2011.

The Fredericksburg Continuum of Care is a group that catalogues the number of homeless in Fredericksburg each year. This year, it found that there were 104 homeless minors in 2010 and 130 by 2011.

University of Mary Washington professor and sociology chair Debra Schleef, along with five sociology students, helped with the most recent Continuum of Care study.

Schleef said they analyzed the age of the homeless population by dividing the population into two groups: minors and adults. The report does not specify how many homeless are young adults.

However, Meghann Cotter, executive director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, noticed first-hand that this trend goes beyond 18-year-olds.

She said youths in their late teens and early twenties are the fastest growing group of homeless in the country right now.

Cotter explained that many 18-year-olds age out of foster care and have nowhere to go. Others come from dysfunctional homes or are dysfunctional themselves, so they either leave home or their families abandon them.

Coming from a difficult home life leaves many young adults at a loss for what to do when they are on their own. In many cases, these individuals were never taught or encouraged to fill out college or job applications, according to Cotter.

“It’s a new dynamic. It’s really challenging to deal with,” said Cotter.

The Thurman Brisben Center, a local homeless shelter located on Lafayette Boulevard, is working on ways to decrease young homelessness in the area.

The center received a federal grant that will aid the Fostering Individual Self-sustaining Housing (FISH) program. This program’s intent is to decrease the young homeless population in the area.

Housing Specialist Shelly Shipman of the Thurman Brisben Center said the grant is aimed toward “young adults who have used up foster care but are not yet self sufficient.”

According to Shipman, the money will assist these young adults with transitioning from childhood into adulthood with programs that help find employment and education.

The grant will also help pay for counseling services.

The program will teach young adults about managing a lease, paying bills, and basic accounting skills, according to Shipman.

Though geared toward young adults, the program will help minors and families as well. The Thurman Brisben Center will receive the grant this July to begin the program.

Nicholas LeRoy, 21-years-old, has sought help from homeless service centers like the Micah center and the Thurman Brisben Center.

LeRoy collects his mail, showers, and receives warm meals at the Micah center and sleeps outside with a group of friends.

“I guess you could say we’re campsite buddies,” LeRoy said, pointing to 24-year-old King Thompson, 23-year-old “Adam” and 28-year-old “Raymond,” all of whom are homeless.

Happy to have gotten through the winter, the boys lighten their hardship by cracking constant jokes.

Even though his banter was non-stop, LeRoy cringed at the thought of another winter in the woods. Sleeping in a tent outside can be manageable for a weekend, but not as a lifestyle, according to LeRoy.

“It’s like an alien scene from a movie,” LeRoy said. “I woke up the other night with this hairy thing crawling on my lip, and I couldn’t sleep anymore after that. It’s like, what’s worse: the cold with no bugs, or the warmth with all those creepy crawlies?”

While UMW students are stressed over final papers and tests, LeRoy is worried about where to sleep when it rains and how to keep bugs from crawling into his mouth at night.

LeRoy left his home as soon as he graduated from Massaponax High School. His family never mentioned nor supported any ideas of college or job applications.

LeRoy pulled out a sketchbook filled with colorful and mystic designs, followed by tattoo ink and needles. Along with some occasional yard work, giving tattoos is LeRoy’s main source of income.

Pointing to a skull on his arm he said, “I gave this one to myself. I also did King’s and Adam’s crosses.”

Educational services within the FISH program can suggest to LeRoy ways to develop and cultivate his tattoo business.

After some time making light of his situation, LeRoy and the others head into Micah for breakfast. As the four boys sit down to their meal of cereal, biscuits and eggs, they reflect on their situation.

“We are people, too. We want everyone to know that,” Thompson said, as he gulped down cheerios and milk.

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