There is a multitude of studies and statistics related to America’s homelessness crisis. In the Lane County, OR area, the question of causation is constantly debated, but one subsection of the homeless population that appears to be delicately positioned upon the precipice of “becoming chronically homeless” and “re-engaging with society” is the local homeless youth population.
15th Night is described as “a community-wide partnership” that works to maintain and enhance a network of resources aimed at helping students in the Springfield and Eugene school systems stay in school and stay off the streets. At the crux of the 15th Night framework is data that suggests once a young person moves beyond their 15th consecutive night experiencing homelessness, they face an increased risk of becoming chronically homeless.
In an interview with the Cottage Grove Sentinel earlier this year, the community coordinator of 15th Night, Megan Shultz said, “If we don’t help [youths], they are your next homeless adult.”
The range of homelessness experiences ranges for Oregon youths, as the term is applied to Unaccompanied Homeless Students and those whose “Nighttime Residence” is at either Unsheltered, at a Shelter, or at a Hotel/Motel. For the state of Oregon, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness recorded there being an “estimated” 14,655 [people] experiencing homelessness on any given day… as of January 2020” in the state of Oregon. Yet public school data reported an even higher homeless population count during the 2018-2019 school year: that number being an estimated 23,765 public school students.
While the number of Oregon youth documented to have experienced homelessness during that time period of time appears staggering, it is possible that it has been severely inflated by the inclusion of a homelessness designation that does not have a precise definition. This final designation is applied to children whose Nighttime Residence is “Doubled Up.” As to the term’s meaning, the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) offers the following: “informal wording used to describe a concept included in the McKinney-Vento Act’s definition of homelessness; [also a reference] to shared living arrangements, some of which may be considered homeless while others may not be, depending on various factors.” With the inclusion of the Doubled Up designation, an additional 18,193 students from across Oregon are added to the state’s homeless population tally. This number, both withheld and added to other Oregon homeless youth designation numbers creates a range indicating that between 9,271 and 24,765 Oregon youths experienced homelessness during the 2018-2019 school year.
In the same time period, Oregon public schools recorded there being 3,699 Unaccompanied Homeless Students, 2,654 students whose Nighttime Residence was “Unsheltered,” 1,824 students whose Nighttime Residence was within a “Shelter,” and 1,094 students whose Nighttime Residence was within a “Hotel/Motel.”
A Eugene consultation firm called Transformational Community Alignment (TCA) was hired to assess the homeless youth issue in the Lane County area in 2015. It was also the firm’s charge to determine what local resources might be accessible and how they might best be used to facilitate community partners engaged on the front lines…. TCA was also instrumental in designing key aspects of the 15th Night program framework, as – according to case study information on the firm’s website at www.transformational-community-alignment.org/case-study-runaway-homeless-youth - it “implemented a collective impact approach that included… incorporating over fifty key stakeholder and opinion leader interviews, in addition to facilitating over a dozen group sessions.”
At the end of the TCA’s project assessment process, it “concluded that there was an exceptional opportunity available to develop an innovative approach to service coordination, resource alignment and processes that required modest investment yet had the potential to significantly reduce homelessness for the community’s youth.”
In 2020, 15th Night claimed to assist 791 Springfield and Eugene 4j students. It is the organization’s goal that “local youth should not have to navigate school and life alone, that local residents will learn how to intervene on behalf of a youth who has run away or is experiencing homelessness, and that young people in the area will learn about the dangers of living on the street, and they will also know how to find safe alternatives to the street.”
After months of conducting interviews with Cottage Grove community partners and shareholders, 15th Night services are being extended into South Lane County. Recently, a press release from the organization was sent out to ask local residents to participate in the program, specifically as “Cottage Grove Community Responders” for the Rapid Access Network (RAN) that will potentially serve the city’s homeless youth.
According to 15th Night literature about the implementation of its services, RAN is described as being the system by which homeless youth can be connected to services or access items in which they need in a quick and efficient manner. For example, “when a student needs immediate help with something specific like shoes, clothes, personal care products, food, etc., a 15th Night Youth Advocate sends out a text message to a Community Responder team. If a Community Responder can help [with the request], they simply reply to the text message. If they cannot help, they do not respond. Community Responders play a central role in providing quick intervention for our youth who need immediate help.”
To sign up to become a Community Responder for 15th Night’s RAN expansion into the Cottage Grove area, visit: www.15thnight.org/cg-volunteer-form.