"Invisible Population" Still Searching for a Place to Call Home

Homeless assistance rates continue to rise for youth in southern New Jersey
Monday, May 2, 2011
For more information on Street Outreach Services please visit www.centerffs.org. If you are a homeless youth under the age of 21 and in need of assistance, please call the SOS hotline, 1.800.355.0660.
CAMDEN-A friend’s house, the backseat of a car, a nearby doorstep; these are the places many homeless youth in Camden City and surrounding counties are calling home.  Some have been thrown out of their homes, others victimized or abused by the ones they love. Trusting no one; they spend days, months, and sometimes years without a roof over their head.  Many have small children who are now homeless and at risk of cycling through generational poverty.
According to the 2010 Camden County Point In Time Count Report, in January 2010, there were 775 homeless men, women, and children in Camden County; the majority living in Camden City. However, it is estimated that the actual number of people who are homeless over the course of the year may be between two to four times larger than the number counted at one point in time. That means there are potentially thousands of residents in desperate need of assistance and struggling to find help.
Center For Family Services, a Camden based human services non-profit, is focusing on helping these teens and young adults who are too often invisible. The Center operates S.O.S. (Street Outreach Services), a 24-hour hotline and program that provides homeless youth up to the age of 21 in Camden and Gloucester Counties with prevention and community education, information and referrals, sexual abuse education and prevention, food, medical referrals, and emergency shelter.
The ultimate goal of S.O.S. is for youth to get off the streets and into a safe shelter. “Homeless youth have compound issues that require multiple solutions within the confines of meeting basic immediate needs,” says Robbenmarie Insogno, Program Director of S.O.S. “They need a safe place to sleep, but they also have medical, mental health, and substance abuse issues that require immediate response, says Insogno, “The real challenge is getting them to trust adults after having been mistreated, neglected, or abused for most of their lives.”
This past year, S.O.S. was able to expand its services from Gloucester County to Camden City and Camden County with the help of a federal grant through the Administration for Children and Families; allowing the program to reach the most needy of populations. While the program receives its highest rates of calls from Gloucester County, it is found that there is a migration of youth from high risk areas such as Camden City to these suburbs.
 “One of the main goals of the S.O.S. program is to demonstrate by example to homeless youth that they can be helped without having to sacrifice their dignity and their safety in the process”, noted Insogno. “Our counselors teach homeless youth that they are capable of making healthy decisions that will improve their lives”.
Of the youth seeking services from S.O.S, 83% are from the “aged out” category between the ages 18-21 years old. These youth are considered to be part of the “invisible population”, meaning they’re not children anymore but they’re also not adults ready to take on adult responsibilities. They have even fewer resources and even more difficulty trusting those around them.
Since the programs expansion to Camden County and Camden City, 700 hotline calls have been answered, over 50 homeless youth were placed in residential programs, and nearly 400 clients have been served in one capacity or another. But the work continues. S.O.S. works 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to provide a more promising life for these individuals. With the high rates of poverty in Camden City and bordering communities it isn’t likely their work will end anytime soon.