Letter: Donna Fortier, Mobile Hope

Editor: Change is happening … and that’s great news for our invisible youth. As a county resident for nearly two decades, I have watched our county strive to keep pace with its extraordinary growth, especially in addressing the needs of those who are most vulnerable, our homeless and disadvantaged.

That’s why we founded Mobile Hope nearly eight years ago. We saw many children and youth who were homeless or precariously housed, but they were going unacknowledged and remained invisible.

Some of our “kids” are identified as homeless as defined by HUD, “living in a place not meant for human habituation,” i.e., living in cars, tents, on rooftops, barns, bathrooms and parks. Many of the younger people are homeless according to the McKinney-Vento definition. They don’t have a “fixed, stable or adequate nighttime residence.” These are the kids living in hotels, couch surfing or doubled up with many other families.

Youth between 18 to 24 are incredibly vulnerable, and for years they fell through the cracks. They are legally adults and yet according to brain science, they are still maturing. The challenges of helping this fragile population are real, growing and many.

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 for those reentering our community, nor is there transitional housing (for this age group) to help youth acclimate and return to or start an independent life. We want to build such a place. For now, we help these young people with meeting their daily basic needs, housing, extensive and individualized case management and life skills … however, more resources are needed.

But we are seeing progress. The Council of Governments is now recognizing youth in its annual Point in Time survey and has documented an uptick in Loudoun homeless youth this past year and probably will again this year.

Recently, I’ve been fortunate to be working closely with other Loudoun leaders to help create a strategic plan for the county. Part of the strategic plan is discussing the needs and issues facing struggling youth who are transitioning to adulthood. The process has revealed real progress in acknowledging our community’s needs and committing to make improvements. In fact, the acceptance of the fact that youth homelessness is a legitimate and a significant issue is part of that progress.

Kudos to the board, County Administrator Tim Hemstreet and his team, including Valmarie Turner, and Glenda Blake and her team, for having the vision and courage to create an inclusive planning process and for supporting dialogues that explore how the county is changing. Mobilizing hope for those who have not traditionally had a voice starts with being recognized … and then by investing resources in serving them.

They need your support, they want to succeed, and they matter. Please visit our website or call me directly if you want to learn more or to get involved.

Donna Fortier, Founder/CEO Mobile Hope

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