Ocean County saw a 21% increase in homeless youth since 2014. The overall homeless total for both counties was 1,061 individuals which makes “nearly one out of every three homeless people” in the two counties a minor.
“Homelessness in these counties differs from New York City,” Said Heidi Hartmann, director of youth services at Ocean’s Harbor House, a shelter for local homeless youths. The homeless youth population often “surf” from couch to couch of families and friends or spend nights in motels.
“They’re the kids bagging your groceries … they’re right in plain sight but they’re disguised so well” that people often don’t notice them, she added.
Homeless youth who have no permanent place to call home, face a unique set of challenges.
“That was the worst part of (being homeless),” said Thomas (his last name is being withheld), originally of Toms River. “If you don’t have an address for a job, then you can’t make any money, so it’s more difficult to buy food or get back on your feet.” At one point, Thomas and his family lived in the woods for about a week. “they were ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ he said.”
Another challenge for those working to end youth homelessness is gaining the trust of the young people. “Hartmann said she has found that homeless youths often develop trust issues because the families and systems that were supposed to help them abandoned them. It also comes from the constant upheaval in their lives.
That is why her shelter works to build a rapport and a level of trust with the youths.
‘They’re not bad kids,’ Hartmann said. ‘They’ve been handed bad situations but are incredibly resilient.’”