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In Portland, a group tries to bring help and hope to homeless youth

Posted at 2:24 PM, Jan 10, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. — There are many reasons as to why someone would find themselves homeless.

"I don't really have a support network."

"It's different for each kid out here, it's family problems or they're just runaways."

"I had a sudden death in the family, my dad passed away."

"It's a little dehumanizing for most people."

In Portland, Oregon, one group is trying to brighten a dark reality.

"We go directly to where people are at and meet them there," says Neal Sand with Janus Youth Programs.

Sand and his team are on the streets every night looking to help homeless youth, like 22-year-old Devon.

"Let's just say me and my parents ... I kind of burned some bridges in the past," Devon says. He's been on the streets since June.

On a recent rainy night in Portland, Devon was sharing a tent with three other people, one of whom has been homeless for 10 years.

Sand says many homeless youth come from broken homes and abusive situations.

"I don't think people have the understanding of those types of things when they're saying people are just choosing to be on the streets and they could just get a job," Sand says.

The cause of homelessness and how to treat it is often debated.

One man in Portland said he would rather live on the streets.

"I kind of feel more stable out here, to be honest with you," he says. "I wonder sometimes, could I handle the stressors that some people go through on a regular basis?"

Another man, Dennis, has been homeless in Portland since August.

"Honestly, Portland is the best city — maybe not in the world — but in the country, to be homeless," he says. "I've enjoyed the city more than anyone else in the last six months."

Comments like that might fuel the argument that not enough is being done to solve the problem.

"Dig a little deeper beyond the sound bite, and when someone says that they're choosing homelessness and they love homelessness ... I believe that no one chooses homelessness. I think that becomes a choice when your palette of options is so limited that becomes the most attractive one," says Dennis Lundberg, the program director of homeless youth services for Janus Youth Programs.

Janus Youth is one of the Pacific Northwest's largest nonprofits, working to help young people realize the options they may not see.

"Once you build that trust — because one of the things, especially with young folks, is their sense of trust for adults has been completely damaged because of the abusive situations that they may have lived through — so we use (the items we hand out) as tools to break the ice, to build quick rapport, to establish quick trust.," Lundberg says.

Meaning the tarps, socks and first aid are important first steps to help people, like Devon, bringing hope to people who might have none.

"My goal is to be involved in assisting as many people as I can on an individual level," Sand says.

Stories of hope in a place where it can be hard to find is what keeps Sand going from block to block every night.