It’s that time of the year when we give thanks and reflect on the year that was. And for so many in Loudoun County—one of the nation’s wealthiest, there’s much to be thankful for.
We will cook our turkeys and stuffing and welcome family and friends to our homes. In this same community, we have kids not dining with families or friends. Instead, they will be feeling thankful for a free meal only to then sleep on the streets, in their cars, in stairwells, on rooftops, hotels or in tents.
In fact, it’s a growing problem, with the Council of Governments documenting an uptick in Loudoun homeless youth this year during its annual region-wide count. We too know this from experience. Every day, kids walk through the doors of Mobile Hope scared, sad, embarrassed, hungry, alone…and of course homeless.
Youth coming to Mobile Hope become homeless for different reasons. They have simply turned 18 and are too much of a burden to their family; some are pregnant; and others have mental health issues. We have had mothers who have chosen boyfriends over their own children. Some are trying to escape gangs or have been sexually assaulted and cannot return to their neighborhood. Some have “come out” and their parents cannot accept who they are. We also have kids coming to us straight from jail … with no plan … no family support…no identification except for their mug shots… and nowhere to go. They come to us when they age out of foster care or the youth shelter.
The challenges of helping this fragile population are real. In fact, the Loudoun County Non-Profit Needs Assessment identified homeless/transitional age youth (18 to 24) services and housing as a significant gap in how we care for these vulnerable children. An example is that the county has no halfway house or transitional housing to help detained youth acclimate and return to our community. The problem is further exacerbated since the county’s shelter has relocated, resulting in a reduction in the number of beds as well as funding for rapid rehousing. We need more beds at the shelter, more housing for our overlooked populations, better transportation options, and more employment opportunities.
To alleviate the crisis for our youth, Mobile Hope spends over $20,000 a year in hotel stays to ensure they have a safe place to sleep, until other options can be found. But that’s a band-aid. Youth require extra support since their life experience is limited and their brains and bodies are still growing. They have grown up living in survivor mode and don’t have the skills to build a successful future. That’s why, with the support of many community partners, we are working to build a life skills/transitional home where these kids can live, learn, grow and heal from the trauma of their past. As the only county nonprofit solely focused on this age group, we invite more partners, volunteers, and funders to join us in building this home and providing community parenting.
As we prepare to give thanks for our abundance, let’s not forget the Loudoun kids who are struggling to grow up. They may be invisible to you but they are real, come from all backgrounds, and walk through our doors every day. They want to succeed so that they can contribute and be thankful, too.
By Donna Fortier, Founder and CEO, Mobile Hope