Homeless youth seek shelter as winter gets underway

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COLUMBIA - Homeless teens in mid-Missouri are seeking out shelter as the winter months begin to settle in.

According to Mark Kirchhoff, the Homeless Youth Program Outreach Case Manager for Rainbow House, his organization has already begun to see a spike in youth seeking beds.

"We've have seen kind of an uptick in November with the number of calls we have and the number of requests for bed nights and things of that nature. I expect it to continue," Kirchhoff said.

Rainbow House, which acts as a regional child advocacy center, children's emergency shelter, and homeless youth program, can currently house up to four homeless youths for up to 18 months. Kirchhoff said whenever the weather leans in the direction of either extreme, the number of youths seeking shelter tends to jump.

"It's a difficult problem year round, but especially when it becomes very hot or very cold, the number of beds available seem to kind of dwindle," Kirchhoff said.

According to the 2016 Missouri Balance of State Annual Sheltered & Unsheltered Point-In-Time Count, of all Missouri counties documented outside major metropolitan areas such as St. Louis and Kansas City, Boone has the highest homeless population with a recorded population of 220. 

The data from the report shows that 2% of the homeless documented in mid-Missouri 2% fall beneath the age of 18, 6% fall between 18-24, and 92% are 25 and above.

Kirchhoff notes that while youth do not make up the majority of homeless in the state, it can be especially hard for them to access resources for help.

"We've made a lot of progress as far as veterans and chronic homelessness is concerned. I still think there is a lot that can be done as far as families and especially unaccompanied youth," he said

Kirchoff said he is hopeful though that individuals in the community might step up and assist those in need this holiday season.

"Sometimes during those holidays, you know maybe family members or friends are a little bit more generous with the ability to house a youth that may be in trouble. you know, nobody wants to see a kid sleeping on the streets," he said.