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Homeless Teens Find a Safety Net at Sea Haven

By Pamela Sosnowski

The faces of the American homeless population are often shown as adults and the elderly, but many youths and teens find themselves without a place to call home for various reasons. The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that there are approximately 1.3 million homeless youth in America on any given night. Sea Haven, a nonprofit in Horry County, is hoping to change that. Ever since street outreach and TLP started around thirteen years ago, it has helped over 400 homeless youths a year find the safety and support that they need to get off the streets and on their way to a better life.

Executive Director Christina Jackson explains that there are many factors that contribute to youth homelessness. These include "family dysfunction, abuse, neglect, abandonment, rejection, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, conflicts with LGBTQ and sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, questioning), and failures in social service systems." Sometimes teens are driven from their homes because they were simply asked to leave.

Sea Haven has four programs aimed at helping homeless youths: the Sea Haven Shelter Home, Transitional Living Program, Street Outreach Center-Project Lighthouse, and Project Safe Place. "All of these programs provide emergency intervention services for homeless at-risk forgotten youth," says Jackson. Besides providing basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and a place to shower, each program helps and enriches homeless youths in long term ways - through counseling; educational, vocational, and life skills; a job readiness program; a pregnancy prevention program; and art, music, and poetry classes.

One of these programs, Street Outreach, goes to where homeless teens are and provides services via a mobile van in the rural areas of Horry County once a week. It also delivers backpacks containing survival items once a month during its Midnight Outreach night. The Street Outreach Center's building provides food, showers, laundry services, survival gear, and counseling. A Combat Hunger project was also launched in 2011 to provide weekend backpacks of food for homeless students in six different high and middle schools in Horry County. These bags are always available for any youth, student, or school official who knows of a youth in need.

The organization is also part of the Safe Place program, a nationwide program that partners with community businesses who can provide a safe place for homeless children and youth to seek shelter in. Currently, Sea Haven has 102 safe place sites in Horry County that offer a safe haven for any youth or teen in trouble.

Jackson is optimistic that the work Sea Haven and other nonprofits like it can decrease the homeless teen population. "It is the goal of Sea Haven to decrease the number of youth in homeless perilous situations by providing a support network for these youth," says Jackson. "By connecting youth with caring adults, increasing safety and support systems, providing opportunities for youth development, and engaging and motivating youth, the number of homeless youth will decrease."

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