Reaching out to homeless young people in Philly

 Taking shelter under the I-676 overpass. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Taking shelter under the I-676 overpass. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Dozens of volunteers with Valley Youth House were out Wednesday night counting and connecting with Philadelphia’s homeless youth, whom some call the city’s “invisible problem.”

 “They blend in. They look like any other young person walking down the street,” said Allison Moore, a vice president with Valley Youth House, a organization that provides homeless youth a place to stay.

And they aren’t necessarily sleeping on the streets. Moore said many are couch surfers or squat in places not meant human habitation.

When she was homeless, Ashana Davenport would sometimes sleep in abandoned houses or in homes with no running hot water. She said being young and homeless is a particularly risky combination.

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“The youth are a lot more lost,” said Davenport. “Your mind is less developed, you’re naïve and people don’t want to go to shelters because even shelters don’t feel safe.”

Wednesday’s effort is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “point-in-time” counts conducted each quarter.

Volunteers will not only be counting, but also interacting and offering people help, whether it’s connecting them with a shelter or other social services.

While it’s hard to pin down an exact figure, it’s estimated the city has more than 4,000 homeless youth.

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