York City Council: Wear red Friday to fight youth homelessness

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch
York City Council declared Friday, Nov.  9,  "Red Shirt Day" to bring awareness to homeless youth across the county. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

York City Council declared Friday, Nov. 9, "Red Shirt Day" in an effort to bring awareness to child homelessness — an issue prevalent across the county and state. 

During a Wednesday meeting, council members encouraged all Yorkers to participate by wearing red and tagging themselves with the #RedShirtDayYork hashtag on social media

"I felt it extremely important to recognize this day and put it at the forefront of our minds in our community," said Councilwoman Edquina Washington, "so in return we can support our homeless and unaccompanied youth and begin to work in unity so one day the words unaccompanied homeless youth will be nonexistent." 

In the 2015-16 school year, there were 855 identified homeless youth in York County, Washington said. 

In the 2016-17 school year, that number jumped to 1,218, she said.

Across the state, there were more than 29,000 identified homeless youth in 2015-16 and more than 32,000 in 2016-17, she said. 

Those numbers are almost certainly larger due to unidentified cases, said Sonia Pitzi, coordinator at Pennsylvania's Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness program who works in the York area. 

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Red Shirt Day is part of the Pennsylvania Education for Youth Experiencing Homelessness Awareness Week, recognized throughout the state from Nov. 5 to 9. 

The week will culminate on Friday, when the state Capitol will be lit up red, Pitzi said. 

Wearing a red shirt and tagging a picture might seem like a trivial way to help, but for the thousands of homeless children it makes a difference, she said. 

"When I show the students that I work with the pictures that social media has flooded with red shirts, the smiles that I see, the beaming I see from all of our students from young to high school," she said. "They just think it's wonderful that people care enough to do that, because they all feel like no one cares." 

While the entire month of November is aimed at bringing awareness for hunger and homelessness, Pitzi said there's a need to specifically call out the educational portion of the issue. 

"Education is important for so many reasons as we know, and we're trying to help these students know that we care enough about them to eliminate all barriers set in place due to their homeless situation," she said. 

The Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness program seeks to ensure homeless youth have access to education.

Under the McKinley Vento Act, Pennsylvania's youth living in shelters or another alternative accommodations are entitled to receive transportation to and from their school of origin. 

Keeping children in the district they know is crucial, Pitzi said. In some cases, it's the only constant in a child's life, she said. 

"I really hope that you'll join us, and light it up red," Pitzi said.