If you see faceless young people in Cleveland leaning against buildings and sitting down in public places, don’t be alarmed. They’re set up as part of an awareness campaign about young people facing homelessness.
Bellefaire JCB, a child services agency, has installed lifelike figures throughout Greater Cleveland, and each wears a sweatshirt that shares the reason behind their homelessness, like “My dad kicked me out because I’m gay,” “I’m too afraid to go home,” and “I’m missing and my parents don’t care.”
“Homeless youth look different than homeless adults and are virtually invisible to most people,” said Karen McHenry, Bellefaire JCB Homeless and Missing Youth Program Director. “Our street outreach team sees youth every day who are in crisis and in need of food and clothing. Homeless youth do exist in Cleveland, and we are excited that this campaign will give homeless and missing teens a voice.”
Ad agency Doner devised the unique campaign to raise public awareness about the issue of youth homelessness. Bellefaire JCB received a grant in 2006 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish a program for homeless youth. The organization’s Homeless and Missing Youth program offers street outreach, victim services and emergency host homes; last year the program served almost 4,000 teens.
Nearly 40 percent of the homeless population is under 18, and teens age 12 to 17 are statistically more likely to become homeless than adults, according to Bellefaire. Some of reasons for teen homelessness include physical or sexual abuse, and unfortunately, their chances for sexual abuse only increases when they hit the streets, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More than one in three homeless youths engage in what’s called “survival sex,” or exchanging sex for food or clothing, according to the National Network for Youth.
Additionally, one in three homeless youth are at risk for being trafficked for sex, and experience sexual assault and rape at two to three times higher than the general youth population, according to the National Network for Youth.
Drug abuse is rampant among homeless youth, along with disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The agency offers a Confidential 24/7 Homeless Youth Hotline (216) 570-8010. For information, visit www.bellefairejcb.org/homeless-missing-youth-program/homeless-youth-program.