Youth Service Bureau works to end youth homelessness in St. Joe Co.

Published: Nov. 8, 2018 at 6:04 PM EST
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Youth homelessness.

It's an issue most people connect with adults, an issue so easily hidden it's often tough to address the problem.

It affects hundreds of children and teens in St. Joseph County each year. NewsCenter 16's Kim Shine visited the only youth emergency shelter in the county and shows how they're fighting to make sure our children have a safe place to live.

Chances are you've driven down Lincolnway East in South Bend. And if you have, you've probably passed by one of the safest places for a unique group of individuals.

"Hello! Welcome. This is our breezeway here. The kids think of it more like their sun room."

Angelica Borysiak shows WNDU one of the favorite spaces inside The Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County, or YSB. As shelter supervisor, she meets the roughly 200 young homeless people that visit each year.

YSB is an umbrella organization with programs aimed at ending homelessness for kids, teens and young adults. Their Safe Station program provides temporary housing and resources for kids 12 to 18 years old.

It becomes home to between eight and 10 people at one time.

"During the time that they're here, they're really able to be kids, let the stressors of life kind of go and even do the family therapy, individual therapy, as well," Borysiak said.

Most adolescents stay 21 days or fewer, and they're expected to continue their education.

"They also have their own little living space. We even give them the matching bedding, to really make it feel like they're at home. And for those who haven't had that, then at least they still get to experience what it's like," Borysiak said.

YSB often gets referrals from area school districts, like South Bend.

"Many parents struggle financially, work several jobs, may not work the same hours as their children. Those are the types of families that seem to be suffering the most," Riley High School guidance counselor Mary Dunn said.

Dunn said she deals with homeless students roughly five times a month.

In the three years we requested from South Bend Community School Corporation, WNDU found the total homeless students, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, rose by 58 children.

In school year 2015-2016, the district reported 243 homeless students; in the 2016-2017 year, the district reported 292 homeless students; and in 2017-2018 year, the number reported was 301.

The district said it cannot give a precise reason for the increase, but it has well-trained social workers and staff to support students. The district also works with the Department of Education.

"I do think that there's more that I may not even be aware of. Sometimes I find out by accident. 'What do you mean you're staying with your friend, and have been doing that for two and a half weeks?'" Dunn recounted.

Parks, garages and abandoned buildings are just some of the unsafe places Dunn said some of her students live. Over the years, she estimates she's referred more than 20 students to YSB.

YSB staff wanted to share this story to show young people that there is a safe place for them, whether they're escaping serious problems at home or they just need a break from life.

YSB has also partnered with 100 businesses and public places in the county where kids, teens and young adults can get immediate access to help. Each location has a yellow, diamond-shaped sign that reads "Safe Place."

The Bureau also has programs to help young adults up to 24 years old.

to visit the Youth Service Bureau website.