Outreach: Help for homeless youth and young adults

by | Oct 31, 2023

Young people without a place to live have a new source of help on the Northeast side. Outreach, a social services organization dedicated to helping homeless teens and young adults achieve stability, recently opened a program center at Lawrence United Methodist Church at 5200 Shadeland Ave.

Homelessness growing among youth in Lawrence Township

“We knew, because of our partnerships with Lawrence Township high schools, that we had a large number of students we were serving in this area,” said Andrew Neal, CEO of Outreach.

“We can see that the problem is growing, and providing services that go to where the youth are is even more important.”

A report from the National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that each year, 4.2 million youth and young adults experience homelessness. Outreach says that includes about 7,800 14- to 24-year-olds in Marion County.

Family conflict a common cause of youth homelessness

Young people say family conflict is usually the reason for their homelessness or running away, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. Those conflicts typically stem from school problems, pregnancy, substance abuse, or a youth’s sexual orientation, the report said.

Females are more likely than males to run away, and Black youth have the highest rates of running away compared with white and Hispanic young people.

Outreach, founded 26 years ago, also operates centers on Indy’s Near Eastside and the Southside. The group doesn’t own housing but partners with other organizations to place young people.

“The vast majority of youth that we work with are couch-surfing,” Neal said. “Maybe they had an argument at home, or they ran away, or they got kicked out.”

Homeless young people usually aren’t easy to spot.

“Normally, we wouldn’t think of them as homeless because they don’t look like the individual panhandling downtown. They’re just sitting on someone’s couch or sleeping in their car for a night. But those are youth who are at risk of experiencing chronic homelessness in the future if we don’t do something now.”

A typical client is estranged from their family, bouncing from one friend’s house to another.

“Normally, they’re intelligent students. Sometimes, they have incredible grades at school. They’re doing well, but they’re at risk because of their housing situation.”

Friends are a key source of help for homeless youth

School social workers can help, typically after a friend steps forward to say they’re concerned.

“We need more of our youth in schools to be normalizing this conversation, to be advocating for their friends, saying, ‘Hey, it’s not the end of the world that you’re experiencing this, and it shouldn’t be something you should be ashamed of. It’s something we should be talking about and helping you.’”

The center at Lawrence United Methodist is open from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Thursdays, where young people can walk in and be connected with help and services.

More information is also available on the Outreach website or at 317-951-8886.

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