Thursday, January 3 2013, 09:43 PM CST
Cold weather puts homeless youth at risk
By Caitlin Conrad/KTVL.com
MEDFORD, Ore -- Cold overnight temperatures put people living without shelter at risk, one of the most vulnerable groups is homeless youth.
Mary Ferrell is the executive director at the Maslow Project she says in Jackson County there are about 2000 homeless kids.
Finding shelter for children isn't easy they can't stay in weekly rate motels and many shelters aren't set up to house them without a guardian. Ferrell says children are resourceful many find relatives to stay with in the winter months but she think about 200 are camping outside or couch surfing.
The drop in temperature is a concern at Maslow Ferrell says they increase outreach in the winter. "We know that the weather gets pretty cold, we really start working with our kids who are currently un-sheltered." Ferrell explained. Trying to find their families motels to stay in or couches to sleep on if possible.
Despite the effort some children will still be out on the streets when the temperature dips below freezing. "We do have a couple kids who right now are camping, we just really make sure that they're able to are here everyday and get warm," Ferrell said.
Maslow makes sure children and their families have food, hygiene products, clothing, sleeping bags and blankets. The resource center also partnering with the YMCA, handing out day passes so kids can use the showers and gymnasium. The Maslow project also provides laundry services for kids helping them to keep their bedding clean and dry.
Ferrell says the kids they help aren't just teens, "we have almost just as many little kids as we do high school students who are experiencing homelessness and of course they're whole family is too," she said.
Part of the problem is the system, the state won't intervene unless abuse or neglect can be proven in court. Proving neglect requires a doctor to take the stand, so for many families with children, being homeless is legal.
There are shelters in Jackson County taking in children and their families. St. Vincent De Paul helps to keep homeless families together. Director Dennis Mihocko says the shelter cannot take youth are their own, "just for single women and families," he said.
Mihocko says youth do have shelters to stay in if they are displaced, "Hearts with a Mission is set up for that, we just aren't set up to do that, there's a lot more to it when you're taking in underage people," he explained.
Ferrell says when it comes down to it there just aren't enough beds in town to house everyone and the colder it gets the bigger the problem.