EDITORIAL: Words backed by action

The York Dispatch
  • The issue of youth homelessness is more prevalent than people tend to think, according to state Rep. Kevin Schreiber.
  • The Philadelphia-based Covenant House of Pennsylvania last week opened its first York-area location.
  • York County President Commissioner Susan Byrnes called the program "a big win for the county."

Early this year, York County officials at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Supper sparked a discussion about an issue that previously didn’t receive much attention: homeless and unaccompanied youth.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey, right, and Covenant House of Pennsylvania executive director John Ducoff speak at the opening of a center for homeless youth in York City.

While we were well-versed, thanks to the work of local advocates, in homelessness in general, we hadn’t given much consideration specifically to the plight of children and teens dealing with this issue on their own.

State Rep. Kevin Schreiber, who attended the Jan. 17 event, indicated we were not alone.

He said the issue of youth homelessness is more prevalent than people tend to think, and the MLK Supper at Lincoln Charter School was a good way to push the discussion.

Organization helping homeless youth coming to York City

"This is a dialogue that cannot be contained between these walls," he said at the time.

Luckily for these at-risk youths, awareness spread far beyond the school.

The Philadelphia-based Covenant House of Pennsylvania held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week at 307 E. King St., its first York-area location.

This week, the daytime drop-in center began providing basic services for youths with nowhere else to go. Kids — teens, mostly — can stop by for a meal, to get help getting jobs or to take a hot shower, said program director Sara Keister.

"It's also about building good relationships with caring adults," said John Ducoff, the executive director of the statewide organization.

Often, he said, the kids the center will be dealing with have suffered abuse or neglect.

According to Schreiber, an estimated 1,500 school-age children in York County went without a permanent home in 2015, although he said the true figure could be closer to 2,000.

Across the country, the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare says there are between 1 million and 1.7 million homeless youth who have run away or have been asked to leave their homes.

The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates between 5 and 7 percent of American youths become homeless in any given year.

Youth homeless center opens in York City

As Ducoff noted, this issue is about more than shelter for these children.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 61.8 percent of homeless youth reported depression, 71.7 percent reported experiencing major trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, and 79.5 percent experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for more than a month.

"It's a big issue, homelessness among our youth," York City Mayor Kim Bracey said at last week’s ribbon cutting — which, it sounds like, is just the beginning of the local outreach.

Within about a year, Keister said, the Covenant House hopes to expand its services in York by remodeling the top two floors to create space for about 10 beds, so they can give shelter to homeless kids.

Terry Clark, head of York County’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, said the state contributed $500,000 to the program, and the county has signed a one-year contract with Covenant House for approximately $23,000 a month.

York County President Commissioner Susan Byrnes called the program "a big win for the county."

We agree — and applaud everyone who backed up those words from nine months ago with concrete action to help vulnerable children in our community.