BANGOR, Maine — When last January’s “Point in Time” homeless count was done, the official number of teenagers living on the streets was much lower than what the local homeless shelter for teens knew to be true.
“The city of Bangor found one. We knew of 35 or 36,” Dan Fleming, an outreach worker for Shaw House, an agency that works with homeless and at-risk youth, said Wednesday while standing by a green couch in Pickering Square.
The discrepancy is because many homeless teens are “couch surfers” who bounce from one house to the next, he said, explaining the couch.
Streetlight Outreach of the Shaw House hosted the first annual #CouchesDontCount event on Wednesday to raise awareness of the problem. The local program is based on a similar event launched in Philadelphia during October 2015.
“The goal is just to raise awareness to the hidden homelessness of teens,” Fleming said. “They’re not counted. And because they’re not counted, they don’t have access to a lot of the programs to help them get on their feet.”
Community Care of Maine and individual donations provided a table full of warm socks, hats, jackets and blankets for youngsters living on the streets to take for free, and hot chocolate to warm them up from the inside, according to Sherrie House, outreach coordinator for the youth shelter.
Shaw House resident Nathaniel Pace was one person who loaded up an armful of socks for himself and his three siblings, who all live at the youth homeless shelter but were in school. He arrived in Bangor with his brother, sisters and mother about three months ago and hopes to soon get an apartment with funds from a job he started about three weeks ago. His mom is staying at another homeless shelter in the city and visits her children at the Shaw House, he said.
“Holy moly is right,” Pace said about his situation.
He said he was thankful for the shelter and support services his family has received in Bangor.
The Philadelphia group that started the #CounchesDontCount project found that a disproportionate number of young people experiencing homelessness in that city identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or asexual, or LGBTQIA, and Fleming said the numbers parallel those of the Bangor area.
“They found that 30 to 40 percent were LGBTQIA, and it’s almost essentially the same situation up here,” Fleming said. “They’re often the first ones thrown out when they come out to their families, unfortunately.”
A stable roof over a person’s head and support services can help them achieve independence and stability, Fleming said.
“November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month,” he said. “We’re here raising awareness.”