McArthur Outreach Program Receives Federal Grant To Help Homeless Youth

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A nonprofit youth development organization in McArthur has received a $600,000 federal grant to fund an outreach program that helps homeless, runaway and street youth in Southeast Ohio find stable housing and services.

Sojourners Care Network will use the grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, to fund their street outreach program, known as Sojo Street Reach.

Shelly Horvath, a spokesperson for the organization, said the outreach program provides services to youth between 16 and 21 years of age in Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Jackson, Meigs, Ross and Vinton counties who are experiencing domestic violence, sexual exploitation, drug and alcohol issues or homelessness.

Horvath said outreach workers target at risk youth by driving a 15 passenger, brightly painted van into communities where they know there are homeless youth. The van has been outfitted with a special light and sound system, a drop-down flat screen TV, and Wii and Xbox 360 game systems.

Matt Yates, Sojourner street outreach coordinator, mans the mobile unit which travels through the seven counties handing out basic needs supplies, including shelf stable food, toiletry kits, water and warm clothing, as needed. He gives out cards with information about Sojourners services for runaway and homeless youth and the organization's contact information.

"[The van] attracts attention. Sometimes they'll see a young person walking around the road and they'll stop. They can work with that young person right there in the van to get them housing," said Horvath.

The organization refers to the homeless youth in Southeast Ohio as the "hidden homeless."

"Runaway homeless youth look a lot different in rural communities in Appalachia than [they do] in an urban center," said Horvath. "You don’t see homeless camped out under underpasses. They aren't very visible. They tend to be what we call 'couch hoppers,'" said Horvath.

In the first three years of the outreach program, more than 9,000 basic needs care packages and information cards were distributed.

"If we find someone who meets our criteria, we can take them into our transitional living program where they receive housing, life skills training," said Horvath. "If they don't have a diploma or their GED, they can become part of our 'Youthbuild' program, where they spend a portion of their time in school getting their GED and the other half they are learning job and carpenter skills."

This is the second outreach grant the program has received. The first federal grant funded the progam from 2009 through 2012.

"[The grant] allows us to really expand the program. It gives us more resources to get out there and reach more kids," said Horvath.