This episode is from Young, Unhoused and Unseen, a podcast production from WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting.
Tucked away in the forested area along the Schuylkill River Trail in Pottstown, unhoused people take refuge in several small encampments.
Some of those people are young adults.
Facing a combination of harsh environmental conditions and a feeling of unwantedness from their neighbors, the young adults who call the Pottstown encampments home are a microcosm of the larger social dynamics happening across the suburbs of Philadelphia.
Colt Steinmetz explains, “Until I was 18, I was never houseless, but I don’t think I’ve really not not been homeless.” Now 19, Steinmetz says living outside has become a social experiment for him.
“I don’t have anything except for like the clothes I’m wearing, and whatever is in the pockets and the shoes on my feet,” he said.
While the four collar counties of Philadelphia — Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery — may be viewed as pockets of wealth, the area is far from immune to the youth homelessness crisis.
Some areas are experiencing an uptick in unsheltered youth.
According to Montgomery County officials, the economic impacts of COVID-19, the remnants of Hurricane Ida destroying affordably priced rental units throughout the county, combined with already rising rents and housing costs has created a trifecta of systemic drivers.
In the resource rich suburbs, some would argue that homelessness in the region is not just a money issue, but a priority issue. Stephanie Sena, executive director of Breaking Bread Community Center in Upper Darby, says, “The real solution is not shelter. The real solution is housing. And so, I would prefer the government would spend more of its resources on housing than on shelter.”
In Pottstown, service providers like Access Services are trying to make contact with everyone who is unhoused, but the stigma associated with homelessness and the negative attention that is brought to the issue create hurdles for those in need.
There is a greater desire for some unhoused youth and young adults to make themselves invisible.
“It becomes this elaborate game of hide and seek,” said Mark Boorse, the director of program development for Access Services. “It’s not a game and it’s not funny. The stakes are high and this is about human survival.”
From the Schuylkill River Trail to the Breaking Bread Community Shelter in Upper Darby, we travel across the suburbs in episode five of “Young, Unhoused and Unseen,” examining the biggest roadblocks and possible solutions to addressing youth homelessness in the Greater Philadelphia region and beyond.