In plain sight: Homeless youth
COLUMBIA — The homeless population across the U.S. and in Missouri are seeing a slight decline in numbers, but the same isn't true for mid-Missouri teenagers.
According to numbers collected in 2014, there have been small to staggering increases in the teenage homeless population within the area in just two years.
The most recent numbers reported by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education show an 85 percent increase in the number of homeless teenagers in Camdenton school district between 2012 and 2014.
Jefferson City reported a 72 percent increase in teenagers without a home. Mexico reported numbers up 68 percent, Marshall up 42 percent and Columbia up 16 percent. Sedalia reported numbers up 9 percent.
Ronald is one of those teenagers now living homeless on the streets of Columbia. While attending high school in Columbia, he and his father got in a fist fight one night and he never returned home.
"I want someone to be proud of me. I ain't really had anyone proud of me," Ronald said.
Another 2014 report by America's Alliance and the Center for Promise at Tufts University found a child who experienced homelessness had an 87 percent greater chance of dropping out of school than those who had a home to live in.
Laine Young- Walker, the Director of Pediatric Psychiatry at the University of Missouri said being homeless causes teens to feel "less-than."
"To believe you're the one person that's homeless put's them in a place of less-than," Walker said."So they're already struggling with the normal, developmental teenage things and now they feel less-than because they don't even have a place to live."
One group of community members decided they had seen enough of teenage homelessness in the area and wanted to do something about it.
Access4U formed in 2012 after a group of Columbia community leaders and citizens decided they wanted to provide housing, health care and mental services for teenagers struggling with homelessness.
The board has been quietly raising money to build a house for homeless students. It is now publicly asking for donations to raise the rest of the money needed to provide those kids with a place they can live and continue to thrive.
The plan is to build a home that will house 25 homeless teenagers. The land for the home has already been donated. It will sit just outside Columbia and will provide the types of help a high-schooler would ideally receive from a parent.
Services will include help with paperwork so they stay in school, scheduling and transportation to doctors' appointments so they can stay healthy and psychologists to talk to so they can deal with the emotional side of where they are.
Kimberly Shaw is the 13th Judicial Circuit Court judge and a member on the Access4U board, along with Laine Young- Walker.
"If we don't help them now, when they need it the most. Things don't look very good for their adult life," said Shaw.
She said, "To bring all of the services together to help them and give them some guidance. It's hard for an adult to go through it. I can't imagine a child going through it."
Access4U is striving to keep kids like Ronald on track.
"You gotta figure out which path you want to go down. Who's there to help you and who's not willing to help you. You've got to distance yourself from people not trying to help you," said Ronald.
To help support Access4U and their mission to provide housing and help for homeless teens in the area, you can donate to its GoFundMe account.