[Hpn] Editorials Cape Cods Thrownaway Children

wtinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 28 Jul 2002 18:37:33 -0400


Editorials (July 28, 2002)
Editorial Page Editor:
William Mills
'Thrownaway' children

The Cape's population of homeless teenagers is growing; a blueprint for
community action.
Shannon dropped by our office several weeks ago - long before the town
evicted homeless squatters from their camps in Hyannis. She called us from
the lobby to ask if we would publish a letter without using her name.

 Homeless youths, including some from Cape Cod, camp out in the early
evening at Boston Common across the street from Bridge Over Troubled Waters,
a social service agency that serves homeless teenagers.

It's against policy.
It occurred to us later that she'd probably heard that before from many
institutions.
Shannon, a teenager thrown out of her home by her parents, left the letter
with us anyway.
"We all think we're immortal, invincible to any of the harmful forces
waiting to trap us in the hole of darkness," she writes. "So many of us trip
into the misery, forget the morals our parents tried to teach us, or never
learn the lessons no one was there to pass on."
The title of her letter is "The Things We Do for Sleep: A Biography of Teen
Life on Cape Cod."

Here are some statistics about homeless teenagers:
 Nationally, no one knows exactly how many teenagers walk the streets, but a
study conducted for the U.S. Justice Department in 1991 estimated that there
were about 127,000 "thrownaway" young people at that time. Most are 16 to 18
years old.
 In Massachusetts, 18- to 24-year-olds are the fastest-growing group in
emergency shelter in Massachusetts. More than 3,100 young adults came into
emergency shelter in Massachusetts in 2001, a 32-percent increase over the
previous year.
 At the NOAH Shelter, a facility for homeless adults in Hyannis, about 30
young people from 18 to 24 have entered their programs in the past year,
which is about 25 percent more than previous years.
 A recent survey shows that nearly half of the young people served by HAC
last year came from the juvenile court system and nearly half came from the
state departments of Social Services or Youth Services.
 In the last three years, the number of young people treated at the Duffy
Health Center in Hyannis has increased from two or three kids per month to
12 to 14 a month.
 According to a study by Peter Mundy published in 1990 by the Journal of the
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52 percent of 96
homeless adolescents between 12 and 17 had been physically abused by a
family member; 62 percent said they had considered suicide; 46 percent said
they had attempted suicide.
 64 percent of 432 homeless youth between the ages of 13 and 23 had symptoms
of depression, according to a study by Jennifer Unger published in 1997 in
the American Journal of Community Psychology.
 A national study conducted in 1991 by Westat Inc., a private research firm,
found that of the 810 former foster youth interviewed 21/2 to 4 years after
discharge from state systems, 25 percent had experienced homelessness.
 63 percent of foster care teens who had aged out of state systems indicated
a need for better discharge planning; 35 percent had been arrested since
foster care; 29 percent had been homeless; and 44 percent had a serious
illness, according to a study by Dr. Richard Barth, a professor in the
School of Social Welfare at the University of California at Berkeley.
 On Cape Cod, there are only five foster homes that accept teenagers.
 Fifty-six percent of 207 kids who went into foster care last year on the
Cape and islands were teenagers. Many are shipped off Cape, where they live
in emergency homes for three days at a time.




* * * *
The life Shannon describes in her letter is not the kind of life enjoyed by
most teenagers. The ones we know are preparing for college, working
part-time jobs or taking trips to the beach with friends.
But each year, tens of thousands of teenagers in the United States run away
or are kicked out of their homes by parents. The federal government
officially classifies them as "thrownaway children."
No one knows exactly how many of these teenagers walk the streets, but a
study conducted for the U.S. Justice Department in 1991 estimated that there
were about 127,000 thrownaways at that time.
Today, a decade later, most experts believe these numbers are swelling
quickly - at least in Massachusetts.
David Finkelhor, a professor in the Family Research Lab at the University of
New Hampshire, one of the study's authors, said most of these kids have
either been physically or emotionally abused by their families.
"A large number have psychiatric problems, learning disabilities, a lot of
them drop out of school, and some have depression," he said.
Most are 16 to 18 years old, and almost half had been asked or forced to
leave their homes. Only 19 percent of thrownaways came from two-parent
families.
In Massachusetts, 18- to 24-year-olds are the fastest-growing group in
emergency shelter in Massachusetts, according to Mary Ellen Hombs, head of
the Massachusetts Shelter and Housing Alliance.
"Over 3,100 young adults came into emergency shelter in Massachusetts in
2001," she said. "That was about a 32-percent increase over the previous
year."
* * * *
"The number of homeless teens on the Cape is incredible these days. They are
your sons and daughters, neighbors, friends of the family, or even just that
girl you thought had a bad attitude as she passed you on the street.
"They are the kids you see everyday loitering on the benches at mall
entrances, sleeping in front of Cumberland Farms with three heads on one
little backpack, driving around all night so they don't have to face the
dreaded question of where they will sleep each night.
"They are the kids you call punks and brats. These kids do not eat. They
search endlessly for a place to live with no luck because, on this perfect
island, no one is supposed to run from their family, or make any kind of bad
decisions."
* * * *
Shannon is right about the number of homeless teenagers on Cape Cod. Nearly
every social service agency has noticed an increase in the number of
homeless young people.
However, establishing a firm number of Cape thrownaways is about as
difficult as finding them on the streets of Hyannis, Provincetown or
Falmouth. Many bounce around from one friend's home to another's, sleep
under bridges, find a cheap motel for a night or two and never tap agencies
that would track their numbers.
But it is clear there are more homeless teenagers on Cape Cod today than
there were five or 10 years ago.
"It's almost like a tidal wave we're experiencing," said Paul Hebert of
CHAMP House, a residential program in Hyannis for single people at risk of
homelessness, including teenagers.
In the past 11 years, CHAMP House has served about 150 Cape teenagers, half
of them thrown out by parents. Today, Hebert says he has to turn away most
young adults asking for shelter because there aren't enough rooms for them
at CHAMP House.

 Anthony Schuttauf, 20, is one of several young residents of CHAMP House, a
facility for homeless teenagers and adults in Hyannis. To remain at the
house, residents must have a job, go to school or take job training classes.
Schuttauf plans to attend Cape Cod Community College in September.
(Staff photo by MATT McFADEN)




To meet the growing need, Hebert and his wife Carolyn are planning to expand
their program to two small captain's houses across the street from CHAMP
House on School Street.
The Heberts are converting one of the captain's houses into a short- or
long-term residence for teen clients of the state Department of Social
Services or the state Department of Mental Health.
But the Heberts are not the only ones noticing an increase in homeless
teens.
At the NOAH Shelter, a facility for homeless adults in Hyannis, about 30
young people from 18 to 24 have entered their programs in the past year,
which is about 25 percent more than previous years.
"For every five kids going out the back door to stability, another six are
coming in the front door," said Livia Davis of the Housing Assistance Corp.,
which runs the shelter. "When we asked ourselves why this was happening, we
found out we were getting more 18- to 24-year-old people who were aging out
of state systems, such as the state Department of Social Services or the
state Department of Youth Services."
When foster children turn 18, they can choose to strike out on their own or
sign up for other state services, such as transition programs.
But because many have not had the best experience with state systems -
they've moved from one foster home to another - most 18-year-olds choose to
live independently.
And many fall into homelessness.






Linda Fargo, a middle school art teacher in Brockton who has taken a
two-year alternative career leave to work with homeless teenagers, patrols
the streets of Boston and Cambridge each night for those without shelter.


"What has surprised me the most is their resourcefulness," she says. "That
can be good and bad. It's good when they know how to hook up with social
services. It's bad when they exploit and manipulate, but they do that to
survive."
Fargo has also learned some lessons from the homeless.
"They've taught me some things about generosity. I've always heard that the
poorest of the poor are the most generous, but I have actually seen that
among these teenagers. They share things with each other."




A recent survey shows that nearly half of the young people served by HAC
last year came from the juvenile court system and nearly half came from DSS
or DYS.
"Those who are coming out of care systems, such as DSS and DYS, often don't
want what we offer in the way of services because they are angry at all
systems," Davis said. "They can be difficult for us to handle because they
are acting out that anger within our system."
Joseph N'Kunta, an outreach worker at the NOAH Shelter, described these
young people in a note to Davis.
"Most are lost. They have no trust. They have no spiritual roots. They have
been moved around from foster home to foster home. They often had family
situations for which there have not been services or ineffective services,
such as counseling. They have missed out on love. They are sexually quick,
getting into relationships within days, which makes it difficult to
intervene in these relationships effectively."
Davis said many of these younger clients have serious mental health issues,
which HAC is not equipped to handle.
The kinds of health services that these young people need require a
completely different response from what a 45-year-old chronically homeless
person needs.
Judy Best-Lavigniac, executive director of the Duffy Health Center, which
serves the poor in Hyannis, said she, too, is seeing more teenagers. In the
last three years, Duffy said the number of young people treated at the
center has increased from two or three kids per month to 12 to 14 a month.
"Some kids have mental health issues, some have attention deficit, a lot of
these kids come with a significant family background of physical, emotional
and sexual abuse issues," she said.
According to research published in leading medical journals, a majority of
homeless teenagers interviewed for studies had been physically abused by a
family member; had symptoms of depression; considered suicide; and 46
percent said they had attempted suicide.
Another local group that has been tracking the incidence of homeless teens
is the Interfaith Council for the Homeless of Lower Cape Cod. Maggie
Flanagan, a case worker, said in May that the council has served two
17-year-olds, one 18-year-old, one 19-year-old, and four 22-year-olds since
January.
"My coworker knows of four kids that are homeless that we hope will come to
us," she said. "We try to find housing for them, help pay their rent, but it
is becoming more and more difficult to find housing in this market,
especially for kids because they don't have rental histories."
Back in the 1980s, Peter Kirwin of Falmouth Human Services said there were
about 70 rooms in various boarding houses. Most have since been converted to
bed and breakfasts. Now, he is lucky to find 20 rooms in Falmouth.
That's also a problem for officials at Penikese, a school on an island off
Falmouth for chronic juvenile offenders or troubled young males from 14 to
18.
"We are scrambling to create a system for taking care of these kids after
Penikese," said Pam Brighton, clinical director at the school. "We refer
them to CHAMP House, but they are full. So we're just foundering. We don't
know how to deal with these kids as a group."
* * * *
The growing wave of homeless young people include teenagers aging out of DSS
and DYS, as well as young people who don't get along with their families but
can't afford to rent apartments in today's premium housing market.
It also includes young people whose substance abuse or mental illness have
made it difficult or impossible for them to live at home, said the Rev. Bill
McCarthy of Father Bill's Place, a shelter program in Quincy where some Cape
teens are ending up.
"The whole South Shore and the Cape are seeing a lot of youth in precarious
housing situations," said John Yazwinski, executive director of Father
Bill's Place. "It's our fastest-growing population."
A few years ago, the Quincy-based shelter program might have seen six to a
dozen teens needing emergency shelter in the course of a year, Yazwinski
said. "Last year we served over 300 kids, including about 25 from the Cape.
They don't seem to have the resources of friends and family to draw upon."
Yazwinski said the kids need a safe environment, where professionals can
serve individual needs, such as mental health or substance abuse.
"You can't do that in an adult emergency shelter," he said. "These kids need
love, attention and a stable environment. We need some kind of structured
environment, a group home. There are so many aging out of DSS, and I'm
afraid they may become chronically homeless unless we do something."
* * * *
"There are few homeless shelters for teens; we are turned away from the NOAH
Shelter, the only chance for a good night's sleep. Why do adults turn their
heads and choose not to see the hopeless stares on the faces of these young
Cape Codders? Some of these kids have lived here their entire lives, and now
they are unable to find a simple room to live in.
"I was one of these kids at one point in my life. I've slept on playgrounds,
behind Main Street in Hyannis, and in countless random beds that I degraded
myself to come by.
"The people who can do the most to help these kids are simply too
pretentious to admit that this could be a problem on the Cape.
"What has happened to the great family life on Cape Cod? I can assure you
that no aid is given to these teens. There are girls and boys from the age
of 12 with nowhere to live. Most of you would say; why don't they just go
home? These children come from many different situations and backgrounds,
but one thing they all have in common; they are all troubled and feel the
need to evacuate and leave their home behind."
* * * *
Shannon is wrong about no aid being given to teenagers. Yes, the NOAH
Shelter turns away teenagers under 18 because it does not have a license
from the state to serve minors. But it helps those 18 and above.
And several other organizations, from HAC to CHAMP House and state agencies,
are trying to help.
Consider, for instance, the work of CHAMP House. The stories of Sean and
Adele illustrate its successes and shortcomings.
Sean is a 17-year-old from Yarmouth, whose mother called the police because
he trashed his room and verbally abused her. He went to stay with a friend,
who lives with a grandmother.
"After two weeks, the grandmother couldn't take it anymore," Hebert said.
"We took him in on January 14."
Hebert signed Sean up for a job training program and GED prep classes.
"We had him sign a covenant agreement that he would keep his space clean, go
to classes, stay out of trouble," Hebert said. "He didn't hold up his end of
the bargain. That's what parents are up against."
Hebert told Sean he would have to leave. He joined the Navy.
What led Sean to act out? His parents divorced, Hebert said, and his Mom was
overly controlling. He started using drugs.
"We don't judge the parents," Hebert said. "When they come here, there is a
lot of baggage, a lot of animosity. We try to find a baseline where we can
begin. We become the surrogate parents, and we take the heat."
Unfortunately, very few of these kids ever go back home - less than 10
percent, Hebert says. "We're happy if they even communicate with their
parents," he said.
Although CHAMP could not help Sean, it has helped countless others.
Twenty-year-old Adele, for instance, came to CHAMP House soon after dropping
out of Barnstable High School.
"We turned her around, she graduated, and is now at LaSalle College," he
said.
Most of the kids that CHAMP serves, however, are over 18 and former DSS
foster kids.
"They're modern-day orphans," he said. "Some have been in foster care for
seven years or more and have no place to call home."
The state, especially in light of today's budget cuts, has little new money
to help kids after 18.
Hebert predicts, "The problem is only going to get worse."
* * * *
Many of those who cannot be helped by Cape agencies end up in Boston.
Meet Connor, a 21-year-old dropout from Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High
School. Like generations of troubled souls seeking refuge in the shadows of
society, Connor and his teenage friends shed their real names.
At age 11, he started using drugs obtained from his older brother's friends.
By the time he was 17, he was on the streets.
"I got into debt from my drug buys," he said. One day, when he was a junior
in high school, the "creditors" came to the family home to collect.
"I owed thousands of dollars," he said. "My parents told me to get help or
get out. I decided to leave."
In the summer between his junior and senior year, Connor bounced around from
one friend's house to another's. By December, he had dropped out of D-Y.
"That's when I started getting treatment," he said. He enrolled at Gosnold,
a drug rehab facility in Falmouth. Gosnold referred him to Bridge Over
Troubled Waters, a program that helps homeless teenagers in Boston.
Bridge provided Connor transitional housing in the South End, medical and
dental services, and helped him get his high school diploma.
He now works full-time as a receptionist for Bridge, and counsels other
runaway or thrownaway teenagers. He has enrolled at UMass-Boston, and shares
an apartment in Cambridge with roommates.
Connor has been clean for more than three years. His parents have not
forgotten what he did, but they have forgiven him, he says.
"My life is very good now," he said. "I have a lot of options. I hope to
graduate in a year and a half. I don't know yet what I want to do, but
Bridge has given me some options. Everybody says it's a person's choice to
do what one wants, but without Bridge, I don't think I could have done it."
* * * *
Opened in 1970, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a short walk from Boston
Common, serves about 3,000 young people from 13 to 25 years old each year.
With an annual budget of about $3 million and 42 staff members, Bridge
provides everything from emergency shelter and transitional housing to
educational programs, counseling and medical care.






Resources


Here is a list of some of the agencies trying to grapple with the issue of
homelessness among teenagers, and how to reach them:
 CHAMP House, Hyannis, 508-771-0885;
 Housing Assistance Corp., Hyannis, 508-771-5400;
 Interfaith Council for the Homeless of Lower Cape Cod, 508-255-2143;
 Duffy Health Center, Hyannis, 508-771-9599;
 Community Action Committee of the Cape and Islands, 508-771-1727;
 Penikese Island School, 508-563-7532;
 Falmouth Human Services, 508-548-0533;
 Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, Boston, 617-367-6447;
 Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Boston, 617-423-9575;
 Youth on Fire, a homeless youth drop-in center in Cambridge, 617-661-2508;
 Father Bill's Place, a social service in Quincy, 617-770-3314.
 Salvation Army, Hyannis, 508-775-0364;
 The Barnstable County Sheriff's Youth Ranch, Marstons Mills, 508-420-3505.




"Over the past 32 years, we have noticed an increase in homelessness in
general, but the difference today is in the kinds of issues we deal with,"
said Barbara Whelan, executive director. "The issues are much more intense,
such as sexual abuse within the home, kids with learning disabilities who
just get left out of the world. They were rejected by their parents, and so
the issues we deal with today are more emotional - issues that not even most
social workers can deal with."
Despite a sense of hopelessness among many of the teenagers, a feeling of
hope permeates every room at Bridge.
"We have seen success with a place where there is stability and a place
where someone cares for them, a place to give them love," she said.
It's the committed staff that makes Bridge the envy of any community
striving to serve homeless teenagers.
Karen Perella, 27, of Centerville, for example, patrolled the streets of
Boston and Cambridge each night for young people without shelter. She tried
to direct them to appropriate services. Last August, she left the social
service agency to pursue her master's in education at Harvard. Her goal is
to open a teen shelter on Cape Cod.
"I was shocked to find so many kids from the Cape in Boston," she said. "A
lot of these kids have no connection to Main Street culture on Cape Cod. The
popular picture of the Cape is that it is pretty affluent, where problems of
substance abuse, family abuse, do not exist. These kids feel unconnected and
unheard and feel a need to go to Boston."
Perella estimates that she saw 10 to 15 kids from the Cape on the streets of
Boston in the course of a year.
"I want to try to reach these kids in the schools before they drop out," she
said. "I would like to do something in conjunction with CHAMP House, maybe
open a drop-in center for kids after school, just to connect them to certain
services."
* * * *
Despite these small success stories, state and local agencies are being
overrun by a new wave of homeless teenagers. And neither the state nor the
local towns have the resources to stem the growing tide.
State officials admit that they have failed to prevent homelessness after
teenagers leave DSS or other state systems. Teenagers who agree to stay in
school can remain in foster care past age 18, or they can move to
independent living programs with minimal supervision.
But many youngsters can't wait to sign themselves out of DSS custody once
they turn 18.
The promise of freedom appears intoxicating, but the reality is that without
the support of friends and family, teenagers find it difficult to find a
place to live or to get a loan to buy a car to take them to work.
According to Dr. Richard Barth, a professor in the School of Social Welfare
at the University of California at Berkeley, 63 percent of foster care teens
who had aged out of state systems indicated a need for better discharge
planning; 35 percent had been arrested since foster care; 29 percent had
been homeless; and 44 percent had a serious illness.
"As a parent, we need to provide comprehensive resources, including health,
education, employment, for these kids who age out of our systems," said
Glenn Daly, a spokesman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human
Services.
Daly said the state has expanded Medicaid outreach so that kids who leave
state systems can get health insurance for at least a year. Former foster
kids can also attend state college tuition free.
The Legislature passed a foster child grant program, which provides
financial aid over and above tuition.
"We've also targeted the federal Workforce Investment Act to create jobs for
foster kids," Daly said. "We want to hire kids in state jobs."
Federal money has enabled the state to expand an adolescent outreach
program, which allowed DSS to hire 24 workers and four supervisors to help
prepare 13- to 21-year-olds for independent living.
A life-skills curriculum offered by DSS provides teenagers and foster
parents with information that can help teens prepare to live independently,
such as how to find an apartment, balance a budget, look for a job.
The Legislature has also provided one-time funding for housing and household
expenses, which are available to youth who have made the transition from DSS
into independent living.
Despite all these efforts, half of the homeless population who are 18 to 24
were in the state system, Daly said. As of December, there were 345
teenagers who were aging out of the system. Another 798 were one year away
from aging out.
"We need to connect kids with mentors and other caring adults, and make sure
that piece is in place when state custody ends," he said.
That's difficult, however, when their home life is less than stable prior to
their release.
Because of a shortage of foster homes for teenagers, many bounce from one
setting to another.
On Cape Cod, there are only five foster homes that accept teenagers, said
Jane Crosby of the Community Action Committee of the Cape and Islands, which
has a state contract to recruit foster parents.
"They're teens and historically everyone knows that raising a teenager is
difficult," Crosby said.
And yet teens came in second only to babies and preschoolers as the age
group requiring the most foster care services on the Cape, Crosby said.
Fifty-six percent of 207 kids who went into foster care last year on the
Cape and islands were teenagers. Many are shipped off Cape, where they live
in emergency homes for three days at a time.
"They need stability and aren't getting it now," she said. "They are
bouncing around and not getting that continuity of attachment and
supervision that they need."
Existing state programs for foster teenagers 18 and over also only work for
those who have been well prepared for life after foster care.
"All these state programs help kids who are doing OK, but for the kids we
work with, they don't see DSS as a helpful, benign influence," said Pam
Brighton of Penikese. "They see DSS as their jailer."
* * * *
"I propose the idea of a shelter for these kids where they can feel safe,
staffed by teens like themselves, and completely anonymous so that the kids
would be more likely to make use of the bed they so desperately need. With
donations from local businesses, volunteers to keep the shelter running, and
space provided from a town or private institution, we could give these teens
a place to lay their heads if things were too rough at home.
"Some people may believe that the creation of a teen shelter would add to
the population of teen runaways who would find it easier to survive on their
own with help from an agency. To these people I propose the solution of free
peer counseling to the teen and their parents if they wish to proceed with a
better relationship, or they may choose to undergo survival counseling. This
counseling would be the key to getting teens self-sufficient and
responsible.
"Upon entering the shelter each child would be forced to choose one method
of counseling and depending on the results of counseling for the teen, it
would be determined whether the same kid would be allowed to return to the
shelter's safe harbor."
* * * *
Shannon's proposal, with some modifications, makes sense for Cape Cod.
Another facility or facilities, specifically designed to meet the unique and
varied needs of teenagers, is needed.
Rather than open a large facility that simply provides a bed and a meal,
however, a facility for homeless teenagers must provide supervision,
counseling, employment opportunities and transitional housing.
"They need case management and intervention," said Best-Lavigniac. "They
need further parenting from the system. It's very labor intensive, but we
need special people for this special population."
A small group home for six or seven young residents, perhaps one in the Mid,
Upper and Lower Cape, could provide overnight adult supervision from 6 p.m.
to 8 a.m.
"Many of these kids don't trust individual surrogate parents because of what
their own parents did to them, but they do better in a group home with
staff," said Kirwin of Falmouth Human Services.
Davis of HAC said homeless teenagers also want to be helped by their peers.
"They are attracted by models where they can live in shared settings, shared
housing, and employment resources," she said. "They are craving stability in
their lives."
One potential model is one proposed by Penikese and CHAMP House officials.
Both organizations have teamed up on a grant proposal to begin a small
business where Penikese grads and CHAMP House residents could work. The
business might also provide transitional housing for the teenagers.
"We also need to revisit some old ideas," said Brighton of Penikese. "Who
are the businesses willing to take on apprentices, to give kids an
opportunity? Maybe that could be tied into their housing. If you work here
on the cheap, we will provide the housing."
Some in the community believe that bricks and mortar will not solve the
problem: "If you build it, they will come." Another facility would actually
attract homeless teenagers, instead of preventing homelessness, they say.
But that flawed logic implies that we should dismantle our social service
network. Does anyone really believe that there would be fewer homeless
people on our streets if there were fewer shelters? The shelters opened 10
and 20 years ago as a way to get the homeless off our sidewalks.
"I think that everyone but me has forgotten that we were begged to open the
NOAH Shelter because of the homeless problem in Hyannis," said Frederick
Presbrey, director of HAC. "The problem was here before NOAH was."
Most of these facilities also operate large-scale prevention programs, which
disburse thousands of dollars each year in rental aid to hundreds of Cape
residents one step away from homelessness. In the case of HAC, the agency
partners with the Dennis-Yarmouth Ecumenical Council for the Homeless, the
St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Cape Cod Times Needy Fund and other
agencies to prevent homelessness.






Shannon's story


What happened to Shannon?
Last we heard, the 17-year-old was renting her own apartment on Cape Cod,
holding a steady job, and attending night classes to finish high school. She
plans to attend college.
"Perhaps each one of us needs to look deep within ourselves, back to the day
when we were young and struggling to keep our lives in-line," she said.
"Each one of us has made mistakes, some worse than others. Why not save the
lives of these kids before it's too late?
"We need to show them that there is hope, and that people out there do care.
We need to provide them with the security we all wish for. Maybe then these
kids won't hold anger in their hearts, the anger that leads to all the
issues and events that make our local papers."




If these services dried up, our society would see more homeless on our
streets, not less.
Others argue that homeless teenagers should be served by existing
facilities, such as NOAH and CHAMP House. Now that NOAH may move to a new,
larger facility at Phinney's Lane and Route 132, teenagers should be served
there.
NOAH, however, is not designed to meet the unique needs of teenagers.
Teenagers should also not be served amid the older, chronic homeless
population. That's why Bridge in Boston was set up separate from the Pine
Street Inn, which serves adults.
As for CHAMP House, the coordinators are trying to expand, but even they
admit they need help.
Clearly, however, there is little consensus about how to confront the issue
of homeless teenagers on Cape Cod.
The first step is a forum among the key players: officials from CHAMP House,
Housing Assistance, DSS, Penikese, churches, synagogues and other social
service agencies.
* * * *
Whatever may or may not be needed in the way of new facilities or programs,
at least two things are clear.
First, the Cape needs more long-term foster homes for adolescents and
teenagers. If children in DSS custody experience stability before they turn
18, they are more likely to live a stable life after 18.
Second, the state needs to do a better job of preparing young teenagers for
the transition from foster care to independent living.
"The notion of aging out from services doesn't reflect the reality on the
ground," said Harry Spence, the commissioner of DSS. "The ages from 18 to 25
is a very big developmental stage. Yes, young people want to strike out on
their own, but all of them need some kind of support network."
He said the state has been able to provide some increased programming that
tries to substitute the support received in foster care.
"But our fundamental task is to make sure no kid reaches 18 without having a
deep and resilient network of support," he said. "This has to start way back
when they are 12 to 15 years old."
The question now is how does the state start helping a kid assemble that
resilient and enduring support network so that when they reach 18, they are
not out there on their own.
"They end up in homeless shelters because they are socially isolated,"
Spence said. "We need to move toward family-centered care. We need to
provide a continuum of care focused on the community so kids have some hope
of developing into adults successfully."
That can only be done by working hard to build a support network in the
community where the kids are in foster care, a network of extended family,
foster families, church families and other significant adults.
As Hebert puts it, it's all a matter of planting a seed of goodness in these
impressionable young lives.
"Whether it's a religious education teacher, a foster mom or dad, a police
officer, a probation officer, there has to be a good role model somewhere,"
he said. "These are basically good kids. They've got to get over the
tragedies in their lives, hold themselves responsible and stop blaming
everybody else."
He tells the story of one teenager who broke every rule in the book at CHAMP
House.
"Other residents kept on asking me, 'When are you going to put him out?'
"I told them: 'When I am sure he knows I love him enough that he will call
me when he thinks of killing himself'."
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