About 1.7 million youth are homeless in the United States, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. One study estimated that 46 percent have been physically abused by a friend or family member, and 32 percent have been forced to participate in sexual activity.
Stopover Inc. and Outreach are two local organizations devoted to helping these youth find shelter and support. Stopover has helped runaway teens for 40 years. It operates an emergency shelter on the Eastside for teens who cannot tolerate living at home, and works to reunite these youth with their families.
Teens have to confront their problems at Stopover, said Elizabeth Malone, who has been executive director for 23 years.
“Being at Stopover isn’t that much fun,” she says. “You go to school, you have counseling meetings, you do have some opportunities for activities, but most young people are ready to go home when they leave.”
Stopover does not publicize the location of the shelter and requires youth to call in advance before being admitted. They usually get the number from law-enforcement or other service agencies, and sometimes from schools. The shelter can hold a maximum of seven youth; an average stay is 10 days.
Malone said they are seeing more boys at the shelter, though girls make up the majority of runaways. Also, the average age of a runaway is 14 years old, though they are seeing more 15- to 18-years-olds recently, she said.
Outreach is a Christian ministry for homeless and at-risk youth and young adults ages 14-24. It provides a 24/7 hotline, street outreach, a drop-in center on the Eastside, social services, case management for homeless youth enrolled in Indianapolis Public Schools and emergency referral services.
The drop-in center is open Thursdays and Fridays. In the morning, it provides meals, clothes, showers, laundry facilities, and job and resume services. In the evening, it offers a meal and opportunities to socialize and engage in Bible study. Meals are prepared by volunteers from area churches, and food and clothes are donated by local individuals and organizations.
Street crews go out twice a day to locate homeless youth. The “day street” team consists of two full-time employees, who also follow up on emergency phone calls received through the hotline.
The “night street” team consists of one staff member and two to three volunteers. They search in public places, such as under bridges, in parks and inside abandoned houses and other “squats” where many youth are known to stay. Their target neighborhoods are Fountain Square, Broad Ripple, downtown Indianapolis and the Near Eastside.
“I like Outreach,” said Chris Johnson, 21, a formerly homeless man. “Anything I needed — food, clothing, shelter, I mean anything, birth certificate — if I needed to get that or rides here and there, they’re very helpful.”
Contributing to this story were reporters Allison Albrecht, 12, Libby Bowling, 12, and Riley Childers, 13.
Copyright 2011 Y-Press