With the winter months approaching, Reno’s homeless population fight to survive the cold weather. While homeless shelters are an option to stay warm, younger homeless tend to stay away, in fear of being assaulted or harassed by the older population. This leaves them without many options to get through the night.
“Some of them have other friends that their parents will let them sleep on the couch or something, but it gets so cold at night and some of them don’t have friends so then they have to sleep on the benches or under the bridge or in the park,” said Carolyn Northam, a former homeless youth in Reno. “Sometimes a lot of them will purposely get locked up, just to have somewhere warm to stay, even just for a night.”
Currently, there is only one facility in Reno geared specifically toward homeless youth: the Eddy House. The Eddy House provides a place for homeless youth to get the resources they need like food, water, job skills training, and among other things, a place to sleep. Due to limted funding, it can only be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week, meaning the kids have to find somewhere else to go during the night and on weekends.
According to the Eddy House, less than eight percent of Reno homeless youth attend adult homeless shelters, while 54 percent would attend an overnight youth homeless shelter if one existed.
“At 5 p.m., they are released back out onto the streets and when it’s snowing and cold the kids have no place to go, there is no place to send them,” said Michele Gehr, executive director of the Eddy House. “So it is a huge challenge to keep them safe and we just hope that they will come back the next day.”
58 percent of Eddy House clients say they have resorted to exchanging sex or labor for food and shelter.
“It’s not really unusual, it just becomes more dire during the wintertime,” Gehr said. “Essentially, it’s a form of trafficking.”
The Eddy House is planning to open a 24-hour facility in the next four to six months so that the youth can have a place to stay at all times. It would include 50 beds, classroom space, a commercial kitchen for healthy food and apprenticeship programs. As a non-profit, they are constantly low on funds, which can make it hard to stay afloat with the growing demand for their services.
“We really need the community to step up and determine that they don’t want this for the kids in our community,” Gehr said. “That we don’t want to have the fastest growing homeless youth population in the country. And Nevada now has that.”
During the first eight months of this year, the Eddy House registered approximately 625 kids in their services, and they gain more every month. While the organization’s size stays static, they increasingly need more volunteers and donations to keep up with the growing numbers.
According to Michael Rose, the floor supervisor at the Eddy House, food and clothing donations are crucial to the Eddy House’s future.
“We’re a huge community-run organization,” Rose said. “We also accept volunteers to come help. We are a non-profit so we don’t have a lot of staff, so we rely a huge amount on the community to come and help.”
The Eddy House also works to teach life skills and job skills to the youth, something that Gehr thinks is crucial to ending homelessness.
“You can effectively end the cycle before it starts,” Gehr said. “I don’t know what you would do with an adult homeless person that has been chronically homeless, other than house them and provide services. With the kids, you have an opportunity to show them how to be adults, productive adults. And they will rise every time. So I think you can end homelessness, essentially, before it even begins.”
Northam became homeless around the age of 16 after she got kicked out of her father’s house. After months of couch surfing and sleeping downtown, she eventually found the Eddy House. This allowed her to get back up on her feet, and she is now living a semi-stable life with her father again and is enrolled in RISE Academy to further her education.
“A lot of people don’t realize that youth homelessness is a lot different than the older people’s homelessness,” Northam said. “The older people, most of them can’t even get back up, they can’t try again. But all these youth people, if we get the right resources and the right funds and just help out the youth, they have so many chances.”
Until the Eddy House is able to open a 24-hour facility, youth homeless will still have to deal with the harassment, sexual assault, and trafficking that comes with living on the streets of Reno.
“Every night that they are traumatized or sold or beaten on the street, that sets us back,” Gehr said. “We can make great progress during the day. But then at 5 p.m. they are back on the street and something horrible happens, and the next day we start all over.”
Austin Daly can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.