2018 at the Bill Wilson Center
Just this past year, 2018, the Santa Clara, Bill Wilson Center (BWC), a full-service agency dedicated to helping homeless youth survive and prosper, served 6,232 people in counseling, housing, education, foster care, mental health, shelter and basic needs programs. Their Crisis Lines and Street Outreach programs connected with more than 30,500 people.
BWC’s attack on youth homelessness is helping lower the numbers found in their 2017 study, but unfortunately the problem still persists nationwide -- and will until communities, governments and corporations rise to the challenge.
The Staggering 2017 Findings
According to the National Network for Youth, jaw- dropping findings from Santa Clara County, late 2017, mirrored youth homeless numbers around the country.
Santa Clara’s Bill Wilson Center (BWC) 2017 study found:
175% increase in youth homelessness in Santa Clara in only 2 years
2500 + sleeping on the streets
13,250 high school couch surfers
17% of high school students from every neighborhood whether poor or affluent, including private and elite schools are unhoused
44% of community college students indicated are homeless
Stunned by the horrendous findings, NPIQ joined forces with BWC with the mutual goal of inspiring people and their communities, government, and corporations to step up to the problem. Yet we all knew that, due to a mountain of misconceptions, having any influence on people to fight the problem, would be met with skepticism – or the “why bother? It doesn’t affect anyone I know,” attitude. After interviewing people from all walks of life as to what they knew – or thought they knew, our analysis found that the depth of factual misunderstanding was beyond what we’d imagined. Together, we prepared refutable evidence to overcome these falsities:
Misconception: Couch-surfing is not considered homelessness.
Misconception: Schools know which, or how many, youth are homeless.
Misconception: People would know if there were a lot of youth sleeping on the streets.
Misconception: Homeless youth would be sent to foster care for help.
No, they wind up in juvenile hall for minor offenses or can be returned to dangerous family situations against their will. If unable to get off the street, they often end-up caught by human trafficking or drug rings.
Misconception: It’s not possible for our kids to actually know homeless kids in school and not tell us
Getting the Word out!
The strategy culminated in a crowded press conference led by government and BWC leaders who revealed the shocking findings. But, of course the highlight of the conference was a well-spoken, amazing BWC, homeless youth representative who would tell the real story focusing on the human element -- what youth homelessness is really like. She became the face for the crisis! She’d become homeless at age 15. She told her story about the horrors, hopelessness, and fear that these kids experience. She reiterated how BWC helped her to find housing, and graduate from college. She explained how this led to her present work as a housing counselor for homeless youth.
It’s not just about numbers. It’s about kids experiencing one of life’s most difficult traumas. The fact that these youths look, and are, just like us, elicits complete surprise. Only by understanding the emotional heart of homeless youth can minds be changed. Changed by learning about the real causes of homelessness; showing the horrors of homelessness if not reversed quickly; illuminating the fact that homeless youth may be the friend sitting next to their kids in school, or intermittently sleeping on their couch, or the kid who used to live next door, or the college student mowing their lawn.
BWC’s now perceived as a top player in the move to end youth homelessness by 2020. And, most importantly, they reached thousands of youth in 2018