An Invisible Problem

Erin Kelly IMG 3746

An Invisible Problem

Nearly fifteen thousand youth between the ages of 13 and 25 in New Hampshire are likely to experience homelessness at some point this year. But most people don’t realize it. As a result, these youth are often overlooked.

When you hear homeless youth, you may imagine someone standing on a corner asking for change. Or, maybe someone staying in a homeless shelter. But this is not the reality for homeless youth. Instead, they’re hidden from the public eye, often couch surfing or living in cars.

“Homeless youth in New Hampshire is an invisible problem,” said Erin Kelly, director of Homeless Youth Services at Waypoint, and her goal is to change that.

Kelly always knew her career would be in social services. It’s what her mom did, and it’s what she wanted to do. After receiving her graduate degree, she worked first in the residential field and then in integrated home-based services. Now she leads Waypoint’s homeless youth continuum.

Fixing an invisible problem has its challenges, Kelly said, but “I do this work because I truly believe we can end youth homelessness in New Hampshire.” She believes the problem is not so severe that it’s beyond solving.

As a large component of her work, Kelly travels around the state to attend meetings so she can raise awareness about youth homelessness. Whether on a smaller scale at community meetings or at state-wide or regional conferences, she’s there as a constant voice for homeless youth.

“It’s a voice that’s not often heard,” Kelly said. “We elevate that voice.”

From her Manchester office, she’s responsible for two managers who direct teams of employees around the state. They work in Concord, Littleton, Manchester and 14 different seacoast towns.

“If I didn’t have my team, I wouldn’t be able to advocate,” Kelly said.

They’re the boots on the ground that give her the time to work with the New Hampshire state government and advocate in communities. Whether operating a youth resource center with food, clothing and a place to shower, conducting street outreach, or managing the five Waypoint-owned transitional living homes, her staff makes sure that homeless youth are able to access the services they need.

Waypoint also offers a rapid rehousing program where they help homeless youth find housing by providing case management and financial support. It can be an extreme challenge for homeless youth to find a trusting landlord, so Waypoint established this program to build relationships with landlords and to make the process easier.

For most homeless youth, Waypoint is their only option. With no youth-specific homeless shelters, these programs are invaluable. Waypoint takes a harm reduction approach to youth homelessness. That is, if a youth is sleeping outside, Waypoint will provide a tent and sleeping bag to reduce the risk of harm while sleeping on the street knowing that there is no easy path to permanent housing. The idea is to help them first survive so that they can then thrive.

“There’s very much a New England ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ attitude about homelessness,” Kelly said. “We have to help people understand that youth have often been dealt very difficult hands. It’s no fault of their own and they need support, skills, and people who truly care about them before they are ready to be more self-sufficient.”

Waypoint’s goal is to get these young people to a place of stability.

“Every youth deserves a safe and stable home,” Kelly said. “We’re supporting people as they try to move forward in their lives.”

While it can’t all be fixed right away, Waypoint is making a difference, and the struggle of homeless youth is becoming more visible.

A lot of these programs and services are federally funded through runaway and homeless youth grants, but Waypoint relies on donations and fundraising efforts, as well. Every year, they host the annual SleepOut event, which raised over $340,000 this year.

Now, more than ever, homeless youth need your support. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed these youth further to the brink. Waypoint continues to provide access to the most basic things they need to survive, so please consider donating to help Waypoint aid homeless youth and to end youth homelessness in New Hampshire.

Erin Kelly at WGIR IMG 2958

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