Illuminating the problem of youth homelessness in the Upper Ohio Valley, volunteers will "sleep out" Nov. 9 at Wheeling Jesuit University as part of the second annual Wheeling Sleep Out.
"Many people do not realize how big the problem is around here," said Mike Toothman, public information officer for Wheeling-based Youth Services System, the organizer of the sleep out.
"Homeless youth consist of runaways, children who have aged out of foster care or children whose parents cannot take care of them," he added. "We have several of them right here in our own area."
Photo by Casey Junkins
Exploring ways to help foster children and other homeless youth transition into productive adults are these Youth Services System employees, from left, Lori Bresnahan, Transitional Living Program case manager; Mike Toothman, public information officer; and Pam Jeffers, Transitional Living Program manager.
Toothman said event organizers hope to raise $50,000 to help fund programs that combat youth homelessness.
He said YSS is asking participants to donate $25 each. The event is expected to last from 7 p.m. Nov. 9 to 7 a.m. the following morning.
"It can get a little cold," he said of sleeping outside in November as part of the simulation for someone who has nowhere to go. "We had about 190 people involved last year, many of whom made it through the night."
Toothman said the event will feature entertainment, contests and prizes. There will also be a showing of a documentary film that highlights the struggles of some of the youth who age out of foster care with no place to go.
For foster care children who turn 18 without being adopted, attaining legal adult status can sometimes send them down a dark and lonely path with an uncertain future. Foster children who reach the age of 18 without being reunited with their biological parents - or being adopted by a new family - usually are considered to "age out" of the system. This means they are legally adults, carrying all the responsibilities that come with adulthood without the skills or preparation to do so.
"When some of these kids go homeless, they think, 'This is the worst thing that's ever going to happen,'" Toothman said.
For more information on YSS programs, call 800-977- 8918 or 304-233-9627.