Every year, 1.6 to 1.7 million people under 18 years old will experience homelessness in America www.DoSomething.org.
Currently in Akron, there are approximately 800 students struggling with the issues of homelessness.
The Assistant Principle of Ellet High School, Mr. Bradford, decided it was time to do something. Several months ago, Bradford introduced Debra Manteghi, District Homeless Education Liaison and Program Manager with Akron Public Schools, to Tyron Hoisten, a recent graduate of Ellet High School.
Bradford said “You might find him (Tyron) helpful to you in the future.”
Soon after their meeting, Manteghi orchestrated Rising Stars, a youth group for the troubled teens at Ellet High School.
She invited Hoisten, who sat in and listened closely.
“Some of them told their stories which were just devastating, so I asked Tyron ‘Do you think you could put a play together from everything you’ve heard?’” Manteghi said.
Hoisten, who has been writing plays since age 15, spent 2 weeks writing the script. Both Debra and the cast loved it and the rest is history.
What’s Going on in the City
The cast and crew of “Life’s Not Over” are passionate about bringing to light the issue of homelessness here in the city of Akron.
Who knew there were so many homeless youth among us?
“This story needs to be told, and it needs to be told here. Though it’s told in different places, it was our time for this story to be heard and what’s going on with these young people and families. What’s going on really concerns me,” Manteghi shared.
“I don’t know how these young people make it sometimes,” she continued, “And I don’t know the answer, but there’s definitely a demise of family life going on out there, and a lot of young people feel that way. Courtney, one of the characters, felt the despair and the suicidal thoughts…Tyron really captured all of that.”
Manteghi says that a shelter is no place for a child.
“People that care about them should step up to the plate if they are able to – which one of the characters did,” she said.
Nellie Taylor, who played Ms. Hubert, shared how she and her husband have seen grown men, 50 years old and homeless, breaking down crying outside of the Haven of Rest because of the choices they’ve made.
“We need to have more places where the youth can go and get some help,” Taylor said, “We need to reach some teens so that they don’t have to be these 55 year old men at the Haven…lets take preventative measures before they get to that point.”
Several people told her how touched they were by the play and that they wanted to ‘go grab some teens and take them home’.
This story hits all too close to home with Myrna Johnson, the Narrator, who has a displaced teen living in her home.
When reading the script for the first time, Johnson says she couldn’t put it down.
“It had me so overwhelmed, because ironically that happened to me this year. This teen didn’t have a place to live, she wasn’t going to school and just started coming to my home. She went through a lot of the things that Courtney went through, as far as trying to commit suicide,” Johnson said.
It Takes a Village
The truth is one person cannot change it all; it’s going to take the effort of many within the community to bring forth change.
“One person just can’t do it. It takes a village, it takes a network of caring people to help,” Manteghi said, “You have to be there for them in their crisis.”
This year Project Rise plans to continue their Rising Stars youth group - they hope with the help of more volunteers. How much they can do depends on funding and staffing.
“We’re hoping to meet once a month and have various people involved that can help the teens with jobs, life skills, and do some recreational and creative things,” Manteghi said.
They will provide mentoring, a support group and network bringing in others from the community so that they can make connections.
“They’re really out there alone. They don’t know where to turn. They don’t realize as an adult what can continue to happen to them as well, and where they might end up,” Manteghi said.
Manteghi’s hope is that they can do more follow-up work with the youth also, but they need the help of individuals in the community rising up. It also takes funding.
“With the funding cuts in many school districts and the things that are going on in Ohio right now it’s a stretch,” Manteghi said.
New Year, New Statistics
As the new school year begins, a fresh new count will be taken of homeless youth in Akron schools.
“Last year we had over 800 students from pre-school to high school. There are more, they’re just not identified. There’s more out there for sure,” Manteghi said.
In order to be identified as homeless, the youth need to meet the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act criteria.
This includes, but is not limited to, being in a shelter, doubled up because they’ve lost their housing, staying at hotels, motels, campgrounds, in their cars or other abandoned places.
They can also be living in substandard housing, or housing that is condemned with ten people living in a two bedroom apartment.
To be continued next week…
For more information on Project Rise and how you can help homeless youth please call 330.761.2969.
To read Part One of the story click the link.
If you have any story ideas, questions, or comments you can contact me at Katie@akroneur.com.