Youth Give Out Mental Health Care Packages to Homeless to Highlight Connection Between Mental Health and Homelessness
For Immediate Release
Monday, February 4th, 2019
Contact: Gina Gervase
Eugene, Oregon - Quart-size ziplock bags in hand, a band of youth from Youth ERA’s Eugene Drop – a nonprofit that provides services for youth ages 14 to 25 – took to the street to give out care packages to people experiencing homelessness. Recipients, upon opening the bags found more than the standard deodorant and toothpaste inside, but resources for positive mental health maintenance as well.
The youth spent several hours on a Friday afternoon forgoing their usual pastimes at Youth ERA’s Eugene Drop to put together the care packages to highlight the connection between mental health and homelessness.
Martin Rafferty, Chief Executive Officer at Youth ERA said, “A large part of our mission is to support youth in becoming successful adults who contribute back to their communities whether that looks like getting a job, pursuing their education, or engaging in community service projects like this – we help them develop the skills and whole communities flourish as a result.”
The youth wanted to help people who have similar life experiences like mental health, suicide and homelessness. Many of the youth that Youth ERA serves at their Eugene Drop have experienced these challenges themselves.
Youth Peer Support Specialist Shandee White said, “I have noticed from working in the Eugene Drop that the youth are incredibly generous and caring with their community. They talk a lot about how we have helped them get to where they are today and want to share that with their peers.”
One youth lead the way through the downtown quarter searching for people who needed the kits saying, “I know the route. I’m a street kid.” The youth started at the Eugene Drop before moving to Kesey Square, down Broadway and finally gave out their last care package at the library. Drop Lead Shandee White estimates they distributed 25 care packages in under half an hour.
The youth felt like she was in the unique position to do outreach saying, “I feel like I can do it better. It is my community and I know for a fact that it will help because I know who needs help.”
According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, more than 40 percent of homeless teens struggle with depression compared to 28 percent of housed teens. Unchecked mental health challenges can escalate quickly, especially when you are unhoused – more than half of people experiencing homelessness have had thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide. These figures are significantly higher than the general adult population in the United States. 3.7 percent of the adult general population reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year and 0.5 percent reported attempting suicide in the past year according to the Center for Disease Control.
On a local level, data from Eugene’s 2018 Point in Time Count, an annual survey that aims to identify how many people are experiencing homelessness, found that over one-third of homeless individuals surveyed self-reported a mental illness.
The Eugene City Council and Lane County Board of Commissioners recently met to review a study conducted by Technical Assistance Collaborative. The report identified the need for more outreach, recommending hiring five full-time equivalent outreach workers and one outreach coordinator.
The report stated the need to “expand and better coordinate outreach services by proactively engaging people who are on the streets or living in places not meant for human habitation (cars, tents, abandoned buildings, etc.) and connecting them to services – these activities are a key part of ending homelessness in any community.”
For now, the youth hope that the outreach they’ve done in their community will not only provide resources to those disproportionately affected by mental illness but by reaching out to their community they hope to reduce the stigma of seeking services and raise awareness for the connection between mental health and homelessness.
About Youth ERA:
Youth ERA is a nonprofit that works with teens and young adults to become happy, successful, and contributing adults members of their communities. The organization creates solutions for communities across the country that look beyond short-term assistance for the few and toward sustainable support for the many. To learn more, visit www.youthera.org