Homeless youth need our help
When I was a newspaper reporter, my publishing company spent a month to focus on homelessness in Guerneville. We wanted to highlight the area’s draw to homeless individuals, who set up elaborate encampments, work with local authorities and call Guerneville home. We wanted to know why they chose Guerneville and what they needed to succeed.
In my time reporting, I focused on writing about Vet Connect, an organization that provided hot meals, showers, social worker and advocates and a safe place for Guerneville’s and the Lower Russian River’s homeless individuals to take a break, talk and move forward.
I attended a couple of the so-called clean days at the Guerneville Memorial Vets Hall. I interviewed a few long-timers but got caught by a young man about my age.
I struck up a conversation. He was uncomfortable and scared and didn’t understand why the hell I wanted to talk to him.
“I’m a newspaper reporter. I’m someone who listens,” I told him.
He told me how he was in his mid-20s and had recently lost his job as a butcher in Sonoma. He had grown up on the west side of the county, so he thought he’d move back to the River for the summer. He was living in his car and didn’t know what his next plans were. The promises of rent-free living excited and scared him: He didn’t feel as much pressure to get a job, but didn’t want to get too comfortable or used to ‘this way of living.’
“This can’t become my status quo,” he said, taking a bite of cheese and bologna sandwich. “But I don’t know where to go.”
That’s where Social Advocates for Youth comes in.
Social Advocates for Youth, a Sonoma County nonprofit dedicated to helping at risk and homeless youth reconnect with housing and social services, is hosting One Cold Night on Friday, Dec. 7. The event is an opportunity to raise awareness and raise funds for those children who are sleeping outside at night. Each dollar raised for One Cold Night goes directly into services helping at risk and homeless youth.
I’m here asking you to help. I am going to leave behind these three great people for one night to sleep and advocate for the 68 who can’t snuggle in a warm house or warm bed. I’m asking for your donations, your shares and your stories that can help bring awareness to the homelessness issue that we are struggling to solve.Did you know that 68 young people are homeless in west county? For our office, that's 68 too many children. In all, there are 515 youth experiencing homelessness alone each night in Sonoma County, the third highest rate per capita in the United States. For those ages 18-24, 88 percent are unsheltered and will sleep on the streets tonight. Most young are sleeping on couches, in a broken down car or they’re trying to stay safe in remote places of the county that are unfit and dangerous for humans, especially young people, to live in.
While the county is working to create lasting solutions to Sonoma County's homelessness and housing crises, we can't provide a solution fast enough. That's where our amazing nonprofits like Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) step up. SAY is hosting its annual One Cold Night event, and our office is participating. On Dec. 7, on behalf of the Fifth District, I will sleep outside for one night to advocate for the many young people who go to sleep without a home every night in Sonoma County. Between now and then, our office is committed to fundraising for SAY and the critical programs and services they operate for the most vulnerable members of our community.
The young people I’m sleeping outside for may be escaping years of physical abuse, a dangerous human trafficking ring, a drug-addicted parent, a house overflowing with rage, or may have “aged-out” of the foster care system with little to no resources for self-sufficiency.
SAY’s services help homeless and disconnected youth stabilize their lives, find safe housing, access mental health care, and develop the skills to become contributing members of our local workforce.
In West County, SAY's services include:
- A Street Outreach Team that spends one day a week connecting with youth people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness by addressing their most immediate needs including housing support, hygiene supplies, food and referrals to key services;
- The Counseling Department, which provides no-cost grief services in Sebastopol, including grief groups for studetns, education support regarding grief for paretns and caregivers and training school staff on how to identify and suport grieving students;
- School-based mental health services at REACH Charter School;
- Participation in the Homelessness Task Force, working with service providers in the Lower Russian River area to provide specialized and targeted housing services to youth ages 18-24 in the area.
Today I ask you to help me support the work of SAY and give all youth the tools and skills they need to achieve self-sufficiency. Please click the donate button on this page and join us in ensuring that the trauma of homelessness and disconnection loosens its grip on the deserving, at-risk youth struggling in our community. On behalf of the lives you will change with your gift, thank you!