Gasworks Park on a cold wintry day. My teenage daughter and I wandered through the open building of pipes and machinery on a lunch break. We noticed a wood pallet behind one machine. On closer inspection, we realized it was a windbreak; personal items were evident, as was someone asleep in a dark blue bag. We quickly backed away, half afraid and half not wanting to disturb this person in their “home.” Hearts saddened, we assumed it was an adult male, perhaps a veteran or someone mentally ill. Perhaps both. Neither of us considered that the person in that bag, hiding out from the cold, might be a teenager, someone my daughter’s age, a young girl. Homeless.
New Horizons’ staff and volunteers know that many teens are homeless on our city streets. The statistics are staggering. On their website, New Horizons reports the following:
While a common misconception is that youth on the streets are rebellious runaways, the truth is that many youth leave home in order to survive. Anywhere from 40-60 percent of homeless youth have been physically or sexually abused in their own home, often by someone they trusted and depended on for care. Nationally, over one in four youth who come out to their parents as LGBTQ are kicked out of their home. One in three youth have been involved in foster care, sometimes living in 20+ homes by the time they are 18. Youth of color represent approximately 53% percent of homeless youth while only accounting for 29% of King County’s total population.
Fleeing abuse and suffering at home, youth on the streets encounter dangerous situations every day. In downtown Seattle, within two hours of being on the streets, young people will be approached by drug dealers and by sex traffickers. Vulnerable to exploitation, street youth are at increased risk for disease, injury, and death. They are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested as adults when compared to kids their age in stable homes. It is no surprise that homeless youth have increased rates of mental health issues, including depression, PTSD, anxiety, and suicide attempts.
Vulnerable through and through. Heartbroken, without hope, hiding out behind a pallet in the cold wind. My daughter’s age. How does one recover from the devastation and loneliness of being forgotten and cast aside? How does a young person ever feel safe again when all around her are predators and users? Who can make a way for these lost children on our streets?
New Horizons holds out their hands in a holy offering of hope and recovery. On their website we read, “Our priority is singular: meet youth where they are. Street life presents a multitude of challenges that must be addressed before youth can begin to apply for jobs or housing. We start with the basics – food, shelter, clothes, a hot shower – and let youth walk their own pace toward higher level resources like job training, case management, and permanent housing.”
Five days a week, youth can access basic services like a clothes and supply closet, showers, laundry, and shelter sign-up. Volunteer food groups prepare a full breakfast five days a week – anything from eggs benedict to sausage casserole to a pancake bar. New Horizons provides day programs for youth to discover interests or talents, like hiking, writing, learning new skills and playing music. Case managers connect youth with these day programs and with job training. In partnership with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, New Horizons has opened a Young Adult Emergency Shelter with 20 beds for homeless youth five nights a week.
Executive Director Mary Steele writes, “Because homeless youth often arrive distraught, disconnected or disillusioned, we seek to be a safe place where they will be accepted for who they are. Inspired by the love of Jesus, we offer our services and love to any and everyone who comes to us in need of assistance, because each person deserves to be loved, seen, known and respected.”
Isaiah 61:4 says, “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Street youth come to New Horizons having been the victims of generational sin and brokenness. Recovery requires rebuilding what has been ruined and restoring what has been devastated. New Horizons, standing firm on the gospel of Jesus Christ, understands that recovery is a long, patient road of consistent presence and faithful care. Through New Horizons, street youth rebuild their hope that they can move forward to live abundantly in new homes where they are safe and warm.
For more information about ministries like these please contact Mission + Serve.