Many kids look forward to their 18th birthday, but for kids in foster care their 18th birthday is often the day they become homeless. That is when they “age out” of the foster care system, and unless they have plans to go to college or have someone pick them up and take care of them many of these young adults are left with nowhere to go and end up in the streets. A new program through the Community Care Network, Breakthrough, aims to to rescue these homeless kids that are on the streets and give them the housing and necessities they need to help get them on their feet.
The Community Care Network is a faith-based, non-profit organization located in Ocean Springs seeking to empower their clients and minister to their physical, emotional, and spiritual need, enabling them to move from addiction, homelessness, and/or incarceration to a stable and independent life. The network is made up of different branches, including a long-term transitional home-Sue’s Home. Sue’s Home helps women and children who have either been displaced by incarceration or rehab and are seeking to get their life’s back on track, so they may unify their family again.
The Breakthrough program began in South Mississippi in July and rescues these 18-to 24-year olds who have aged out of the foster care system and have no job or hopes of going to college, said Shellie Carter, director of the program for the Community Care Network. “Many of these kids have bounced around in foster homes or may come from an abusive home and turn to alcohol and drugs to cope”, she said.
Carter mentions how she can understand and relate to how uncertain and scared these kids are. “I was a child of an addict”, she said, and at age 6 she and her sister were taken from her mother and placed in a foster care in Harrison County. “I’ve been in your shoes”, she tells the kids.
The program was founded after receiving the Continuum of Care (COC) Grant through Open Doors Homeless Coalition, which is a coalition for the homeless in Gulfport. “When I met Diane Easley, (Founder and Executive Director of Community Care Network), I thought ‘wow what a blessing it would be to work with the community after experiencing what I have as a child in the foster care system and having addiction touch my life'”, said Carter.
This is her 9th year working with non-profits and second year with the Community Care Network. At 47, she now believes life has brought her to where she needs to be to put her own past to rest and to take those late-night phone calls from kids in Breakthrough who need help or just someone to listen to their concerns.
Homelessness is a challenge in our area
The homeless population in Ocean Springs has become a continuous issue in the city. A 2015 count showed a 300 percent increase in homelessness among ages 18 to 24 in the six southern counties, most of them on the Coast, Carter said. In every other age category the numbers went down, she said. The current count of young people living outside in South Mississippi is 54. “I have people call me daily to try and get into the program and on average about 3 people per week”, said Carter. “We’re funded out through the end of the year and at our max capacity with our budget”, she said. “We don’t have any more room- the problem is that big.” There are currently 11 residents enrolled in the program.
“There’s a lot of barriers that go into homeless youth. If they’re 18 there’s a lot of apartment complexes who won’t accept an 18 year old signing a lease”, she said. “Another issue is employment and transportation that we’ve come across while trying to help the homeless youth.”
How it works
The homeless youth first go through a centralized intake through Open Doors Coalition and get all of the information to identify their level of need. “A score of one would be the least amount of need and if they score from five to ten they are really desperate”, she said.
After determining their need, the next step includes finding an apartment so the young person has a warm, safe place to live. The program provides them with everything from furniture and cooking supplies and even food. “There’s a lot to getting a young person housed who has nothing,” Carter said.
Breakthrough also assigns a case manager who provides help learning how to apply for food stamps, search for jobs and even enrolling them in financial counseling. “It’s very overwhelming to 19-year-olds,” Carter said, since many of them don’t know how to cook or parent and “freeze” when asked to fill out job applications.
The program has had many success stories ike a young woman in Gulfport who was homeless and now has apartment and a high school diploma and plans to start junior college this spring.
“It can happen to anyone”, says Carter. “So if we can all take our shoes off and walk in someone else’s for a day we can all get that perspective and relate in someway”, she added. “I’m sure at some point in life, addiction has touched someone you know or someone in your family and that’s where our human-ness comes in our ability to touch and reach out to these people and give a hand up, not a hand down”, said Carter.
How you can help
The program is always in need of supplies for the program such as personal hygiene items, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant. Any leftovers are sent back out into the homeless community. “We make care packages and take them back out into the streets to pass out” said Carter.
For more information on the Breakthrough program or Community Care Network, visit their website at ccms.org.