Lighthouse Youth Services, police agencies partner to combat youth homelessness

CINCINNATI – New help is on the way for the city’s homeless youth who’ve been the victims of sexual assault or trafficking.

A partnership comprised of Lighthouse Youth Services, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, Cincinnati police and a number of organizations and agencies will mount a new joint effort to combat youth homelessness by bolstering existing services and adding substance abuse and education services.

“When you’re working with homeless young adults and teens, what you find out is there are a host of mental-health issues, and there is substance abuse, and they’re all at high risk for victimization,” said John Keuffer, program director at the Lighthouse Sheakley Center for Youth. “It’s a social condition that we’re trying to improve.”

The idea for the project, which will be announced officially at a news conference on Tuesday, came when officials realized there was no central place where homeless youth could go to get help. The existing services were disjointed.

Keuffer, who is spearheading the new efforts, said the focus will be on four areas:

  • Prevention aimed at youth and their parents.
  • Treatment to ensure victims are able to get needed therapy for mental health issues and substance abuse.
  • Intervention in the form of case management and legal advocacy during pre-trial services provided by Lighthouse Youth Services, which serves young people ages 13-24, and the sheriff’s office.
  • Response which will involve multidisciplinary teams and training.

Cincinnati Police Officer Angela Vance said one reason the new joint effort started was because a high rate of homeless youth — about 25 percent nationally — experienced some kind of parental substance abuse which in some cases may factor into their homelessness.

The trauma caused by parental substance abuse may also contribute to some youth remaining homeless because they do not want to go back home, Vance said.

Billboards featuring Vance with youth impacted by homelessness will be erected around the city to increase awareness of the issue, she said. It’s part of the new joint effort.

Vance said there are hundreds of homeless youth in Hamilton County.

Officials will also push for increasing the age of foster care from 18 to 21. Between 1,000 and 1,300 Ohio foster youths age out of the system each year when they turn 18, and too many exit to a bleak landscape with scant resources and support, Keuffer said.

Homelessness, crime and early parenthood are common experiences. Success in college and on the job is often elusive.

“Allowing them access to youth services until they’re 21 will help decrease victimization, because once they turn 18, they’re on the street, and in Ohio, a trafficker makes contact with homeless youth within 24 hours of being on the street,” Keuffer said, referencing statistics from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community is particularly at risk of being victims of the predatory practices of pimps, johns and traffickers, officials said. Vance, the department’s LGBT liaison, and Keuffer referred to a problem known as “survival sex,” an act resorted to gain food, shelter, protection and other necessities. Other homeless young people, officials say, resort to criminal activities. Traffickers can then easily manipulate those desperate to escape poverty with the promise of a more stable life.

Details of the new joint effort will be released at 10 a.m. Tuesday, at the Hamilton County’s Sheriff’s Office downtown.

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