Latest News, WVPA Sharing

Youth homelessness a problem In Wheeling


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — After spending time at a total of 13 different foster homes, treatment centers, emergency shelters and detention centers, a 17-year-old Wheeling girl will likely be left homeless once she turns 18 in November, said Youth Services System Transitional Living Program Manager Pam Jeffers.

Preparing for the seventh annual Wheeling SleepOut, set for 6 p.m. Friday, are Youth Services System Behavioral Management Specialist Velvet Elkins and YSS Special Events Coordinator Sondra Jackson.
(Intelligencer photo by Casey Jenkins)

“The plan right now is for her to go to the Salvation Army homeless shelter,” Jeffers said. “What is this girl supposed to do? She’s going to be put on a track to fail before she even starts as an adult.”

Sadly, this girl is not alone, as Jeffers said as many as 70 young adults ages 18-21 have been in the YSS transitional living program within just the last year. This does not include anyone outside this age range, nor does it account for those who may be left homeless but have not taken part in the program.

“There is no way to really count the number of homeless kids in Wheeling and Ohio County,” Jeffers said. “We just know that it seems to be going up.”

“It can be hard to count them because they do a lot of ‘couch surfing.’ A friend’s parents will let them stay their for a week, and then they are on the move again,” Jeffers said.

Jeffers and YSS Special Events Coordinator Sondra Jackson hope to raise funds for the transitional living program during the seventh annual Wheeling SleepOut, which is set for 6 p.m. Friday at the Interstate 470 J.B. Chambers Complex in Elm Grove.

“We’ve raised $209,270 in the first six years, including about $53,000 last year,”Jackson said. “We’ve gotten a lot of interest this year, so we expect a good turnout.”

Jackson and Jeffers said many in the Upper Ohio Valley likely do not realize how significant the problem of youth homelessness is. Their view of homelessness may be only of panhandlers who often stand near bridges in downtown Wheeling.

“There are so many homeless children in our area that we don’t know about. Some of them get kicked out by their parents, while others don’t even have parents to go to,”Jackson said.

Another major group of homeless youth comes from those who “age out” from the foster care system. This means these children reach the age of 18 without returning to their biological parents or being adopted by different families. In most cases, state funding for the youth ends at this time, so the young person is on his or her own.

However, Jeffers said some biological parents simply do not get along with their children, so they “kick them out.”

“And kids who become homeless don’t have the skills needed to make good choices. They will do whatever it takes to survive,” Jackson added, noting this could include offering themselves for prostitution.

Jeffers said there are success stories, however. Several young people are now staying at the McCrary Center on Wheeling Island, including a 19-year-old man from Moundsville.

“He is now working two different jobs,” Jeffers said of the man. He is also preparing to take the new Test Assessing Secondary Completion exam, which is now West Virginia’s version of the GED.

“He had been homeless for about two months when he got here,” she said. “He’s making progress.”

Jeffers said young people often ring the doorbell at the McCrary Center to see if she can help them. Even if the center is full, she can usually offer some form of assistance.

“Sometimes, they don’t even have any identification. Without that, they can’t even apply for a job,” she said.

“A lot of the general public has no idea how much some of these kids struggle with just basic things that most take for granted,” Jeffers added.

For more information on the SleepOut, go to:–id=1040&pg=entry, or contact Jackson at Jackson at [email protected] or 304-218-2909.

See more from The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter