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For Cape Cod’s Homeless Youth, Resources Are Few


A new mid-Cape shelter will bring housing resources closer to the Outer Cape


EASTHAM — For Tony, who graduated from Nauset Regional High School last May, the stress of homework was the least of his troubles.


He was one of three homeless students at the high school last year, and besides applying for college, he worked six days a week and shuffled between several temporary housing arrangements, according to Mary O’Reilly, manager of youth and young adult services at the Homeless Prevention Council (HPC). (“Tony” is not his real name; the Independent agreed to use a pseudonym to protect the student’s privacy.)

O’Reilly said that Tony was unhoused after a conflict with his parents led them to take him out of school and send him to live with relatives abroad. But that situation was unhealthy and he fled, managing to buy a plane ticket back to Massachusetts at the start of the summer.


The school year ended soon after Tony returned. He found a summer rental in Provincetown and worked two jobs — at a grocery store and at a restaurant — to cover his rent. In the fall, he re-enrolled at Nauset. But he was out of a home and went to the school adjustment counselor, Alison McLeod, for help, said O’Reilly.


“A friend of a friend of a friend” knew about a room in Eastham he could stay in for $400 a month while finishing his senior year, O’Reilly said. McLeod also connected him with O’Reilly, who initially struggled to help Tony, given that he was 17 and most youth shelter programs are restricted to those 18 and older.


When Tony turned 18 that fall, he became eligible for the HPC’s pilot Host Homes program, which pays $600 per month to cover rent for homeless young adults. That help enabled him to save his work earnings for college. He is now enrolled in college in Maine.

There are currently 11 homeless students in the Nauset Regional school system, three homeless students at the Provincetown IB Schools, and none at the Truro Central School, according to school administrators.


O’Reilly said there are few options for homeless students going to school on the Outer Cape. Most opt to couch surf — what housing specialists call “doubling up” — rather than leave the region, she added. Typically, they stay with friends or friends’ families. None of the homeless students are currently unsheltered, said O’Reilly.


For students who find themselves without a stable home, “every aspect of daily life that many take for granted is suddenly changed, with no end in sight,” said Matthew Kravitz, director of student services in the Nauset public schools.


There is no homeless shelter of any kind on the Outer Cape, let alone a youth shelter. Accompanied homeless youths are shuffled around in ad hoc housing with their families; unaccompanied minors often “navigate the system themselves,” said O’Reilly.


This summer, the Housing Assistance Corporation [HAC] will open a new family shelter in Dennis, making it the closest shelter to the Outer Cape.


The Dennis shelter will consolidate three existing family shelters run by HAC in Hyannis, Falmouth, and Bourne. The space in Hyannis will be used for youth transitional housing, with room for five people under age 25 from across the Cape and Islands.


Unsettled

Kravitz described countless difficulties that homeless students face: waking up hungry in a car or from a shaky night’s sleep on a friend’s couch, unsure if the bus the student needs to get to school is running that day. They are often distracted, anxious, or depressed during the day, unable to focus on the tasks in front of them.


According to John Morgan, a school adjustment counselor at the Provincetown IB Schools, homelessness often arises when parents lose housing. They move in with friends or “a cousin, an aunt, or a distant relative,” he said.


These students often don’t have “space to just relax or do homework,” said Morgan. “There is no respite. They’re sharing one room, sharing a bathroom. I can only imagine that family tensions are magnified.”


Student services and school adjustment counselors connect these students with donated items, check on their academic performance, and act as a liaisons with state agencies.


Nauset High students may also go to the Outer Cape Health Services navigator, Jennifer Ferron, who is stationed at the school and often refers students to the HPC.


“They’re asked to leave their communities in order to get housing,” said HPC’s O’Reilly.

“Sure, you can go to Hyannis to get housing, but you lose all your supports — now they’re an hour away.”


Because most homeless young adults on the Outer Cape are sheltered, they often don’t realize they qualify for aid from the state, said O’Reilly. They assume that because they have a roof over their heads, they don’t qualify as homeless. She said there is a significant “hidden population” of homelessness here.


“Just because we don’t see them, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” said O’Reilly.

For those who choose to stay, finding public transport, affordable housing, and jobs can be extremely difficult. But “at the end of the day, if they want to stay on the Outer Cape, we’ll try to find a way to make that happen,” she said.


The New Shelter

Last October, HAC purchased 1 Love Lane, the former site of the South Dennis HealthCare nursing home, for $4.3 million.


According to HAC CEO Alisa Magnotta, the 79-family shelter in Dennis will consolidate resources and could bring advocates from the Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program, the HPC, and other groups to a central meeting place.


The new five-person youth shelter in Hyannis will be part of HAC’s effort to create a safer environment for young adults and provide an alternative to the adult shelter system, Magnotta said.


“We have people aging out of foster care who have nowhere to go,” she said. “They have no family. They have nothing.”


HPC is expanding its Host Homes program to serve all of the Cape and Islands. It will offer 10 homes a monthly stipend of $800 to $1,000 to house a homeless young adult for a minimum of eight months.


Still, O’Reilly said she wishes there were a homeless shelter or youth shelter on the Outer Cape. The small year-round population and geographic isolation makes that unlikely, said state Sen. Julian Cyr.


“We probably could not sustain a shelter,” said Cyr. Instead, “we want to focus on programs that keep people in their homes and keep people from becoming homeless.”

Cyr pointed to programs that support the homeless, particularly those who use drugs. The Outer Cape Health methadone clinic and the new mobile van of the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod will help vulnerable communities by reaching them where they are, he said.


“Not only do we have homeless people living in our Cape communities, we have even more people who are housing insecure,” Cyr said. “We will see more unhoused, displaced families until we take significant steps to address the housing crisis.”


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