York City proclaims week of awareness for homeless youth

Jason Addy
York Dispatch
  • Pennsylvania Education for Youth Experiencing Homelessness Awareness Weeks runs from Monday to Friday.
  • Red Shirt Day will be observed on Friday in York City to help start a conversation about homeless children.

With temperatures dropping rapidly, York City Mayor Kim Bracey and the city are trying to bring attention to school-aged children struggling to find safe and stable homes.

On behalf of Bracey, York City Director of Communications Edquina Washington read a proclamation declaring this week of Nov. 14 to Nov. 18 as Pennsylvania Education for Youth Experiencing Homelessness Awareness Week.

“We must join together as a community to bring awareness, while actively working to develop a solution to ensure that our youth have a safe and happy place to call their home while receiving an education that they deserve in our community,” Washington said.

Washington also encouraged residents to wear red Friday in support of Red Shirt Day to “begin the much-needed conversations in our community to put an end to the homelessness of our youth.”

Children without a place to stay every night face a unique set of problems, Washington said, from a shortage of affordable housing for displaced minors to shelters that won’t accept unaccompanied youth without a parent or guardian.

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Homelessness is a difficult subject to talk about, but it is even harder when children are involved, said Sonia Pitzi, regional coordinator for the Pennsylvania Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness.

In the 2014-15 school year, more than 26,000 students across the state were homeless or lacked adequate housing, Washington said. Pitzi estimated that number reached 30,000 in the 2015-16 school year.

“Without folks taking the conversation to the public, we’re not going to get the issue of homelessness out there,” Pitzi said.

November is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month, but the purpose of this week is to focus attention on the educational aspects of children coping with homelessness, Pitzi said, as schools are sometimes the only places where students can get consistency, stability and safety.

The ECYEH organization has started an online campaign using the hashtag #IWillBeYourVoice to share the stories of homeless students who are afraid of being judged, Pitzi said.

“We’re here to make sure that the issue of homelessness is not just a food drive or talking about lack of affordable housing or hearing each other talk about education,” Pitzi said. “We’re going to make sure these stories are told.”