Being a homeless youth is difficult enough, but being a homeless youth on the first day of school today in the Mesa heat adds an entire new dynamic to the struggle.
That’s why the non-profit Tumbleweed Center for the Youth has launched a new expansion of its 16-foot mobile unit to include Mesa. What this means is the Mobile Youth Resource Center on wheels will travel to the Mesa Family Advocacy Center, 225 E. 1st St., on Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Once a week this will allow teens ages 18-25 to use showers, restrooms and laundry facilities, while being given a backpack filled with non-perishable food items, water, and toiletries,” said Lisa Cardinale, spokesperson for Tumbleweed. “They are also provided with information about safe shelters to stay in and other counseling services provided by Tumbleweed at that time.”
The Tumbleweed Mobile Youth Resource Center on Wheels is a unique service: a fully equipped van accompanied by a truck-towed, 16-foot trailer that contains two showers, two toilets, two sinks and two washer/dryer combinations. The trailer stows and carries off all wastewater that the service generates for proper disposal. The van carries Tumbleweed staff who offer case management services, backpacks with non-perishable food items, internet access, clothing and hygiene supplies.
“Kids can come here and get backpacks with bottled water, snacks, a clean pair of socks, a hygiene bag, and more,” Cardinale continued. “It’s a safe place for them to come take a shower and we even give them shower flip-flops.”
After reviewing Mesa Public Schools homeless statistics Ken Lynch, chief communications officer for Tumbleweed, said his group decided to add the city of Mesa to its weekly route.
“We were told Mesa (Public Schools) has a very high number of homeless students so we said, ‘Let’s get service started so people in Mesa know we’re around,’” he said. “We started talking and Mesa hooked us up with the Family Advocacy Center.
“We’re trying to get them off the streets and address their immediate needs and then get them into resource centers,” Lynch continued. “We are also trying to educate the community because trust is a big issue, so we have to build that relationship when dealing with these youths.”
Rachelle Wayne, youth care worker for Tumbleweed, emphasized the importance of trust with these local homeless youths.
“We focus on youths because adults are more likely to reach out for services on their own,” Wayne said. “Youths don’t trust the system and we’re just here to give the resources and to let them know about it.”
Lynch emphasized: “Tumbleweed equals homeless youth and homeless youths are very different than homeless adults. These youths are not homeless by choice but would much rather be with their family even if they don’t have the family support.
“They need to know that they have choices and that we’re not here to break up families. Many of them suffer from abuse and neglect at home, often substance abuse on the parental level. Thirty-eight percent of these kids come from the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning) community and have been bullied and fear for their safety. They’re unsure of their food supply. Eighty-two percent have said they have been a victim of crime since becoming homeless and 40 percent attempt to kill themselves.”
The service represents the first major expansion of Tumbleweed services outside of the central Phoenix core in Tumbleweed’s 40-year existence. They conducted a pilot with the city of Phoenix late last year and found that over a four-month period, 12 visits were conducted at three library branches, serving 53 unduplicated youth. In addition to receiving “triage” services such as backpacks, water, food and hygiene supplies: 23 youths were referred to the Tumbleweed’s Youth Resource Centers to for advanced Case Management Services; one entered Tumbleweed’s Emergency Housing Program, and four were referred for shelter services. In addition, 43 individuals (not youths) received basic needs from the Mobile Center as they do not turn people away based on their age.
Tumbleweed officials say homelessness can mean: living in a vehicle with or without family, camping out, living in a shelter, or temporarily residing with friends.
A recent survey Tumbleweed conducted with Arizona State University shows the levels of trauma experienced by Arizona’s homeless youth in the home environment, on the street, or both: 32.1 percent experienced childhood physical abuse; 45.9 percent experienced emotional abuse; 26.4 percent were raped/molested, age 12 or younger; 20.3 percent were raped/molested, age 13-17; 25.6 percent had a history of sex trafficking; 22.3 percent attempted suicide; 44.3 percent have a history of self-harm; 46.3 percent have medical conditions.
Of the 25.6 percent who reported a history of sex trafficking, the percentage of each of these experiences is higher. Approximately 36 percent reported being LGBTQ, and many said they were being rejected by their families due to their sexual orientation. The percentage of LGBTQ youth who report a history of sex trafficking is 38 percent.
For more information on this new Mesa program, visit: http://tumbleweed.org/mobile-youth-resource-center.
– Kelly Mixer is managing editor of MyNewsMesa.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.