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Homeless youth rises: 'As a community we have to address this issue'

The number of homeless youth has doubled from last year according to a new Lane County homeless count. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. -- The number of homeless youth has doubled from last year according to a new Lane County homeless count.

Finding a place to stay and a consistent bed to sleep in is a growing problem for homeless kids in Lane County.

"This has been an underlying issue hidden in plain sight and now we just have numbers to additionally document," said Human Services Supervisor Alexandria Dreher at Lane County Health and Human Services

The “One Day Point in Time" count of homeless people in the community is just a snapshot, "but the jump last year from 11 to 25 this year is startling," she said.

There are many factors that lead to kids becoming homeless.

“It starts with family breakdown; maybe the family is not a safe place for them to be, so as a community we have to address this issue."

"Pretty much every semester, including this one, we have kids that are technically homeless," said Matthew Sterner, the program supervisor at the MLK Education Center.

Sterner says he sees more kids reported as homeless: "The fact that they're not consistently understanding where they're going to go to bed that night is a huge burden on being a student."

The center is a vocational and educational program that serves high-risk youth.

To be clear, not all the students are homeless. Sterner says kids need a place to feel safe, which means more affordable housing.

"Six to nine months earlier they were behind in credits, they were sometimes couch surfing or living on the streets, and these are the little things that we can provide,” Sterner said. “If they have stable housing on top of that, it's going to increase the chances of success."

Lane County Human Services says they’re currently investing in more permanent homeless units, taking away the burden of finding dinner or a place to sleep, allowing these teens to focus on their education, taking them on a more successful path.

Next year, Lane County Health and Human Services will do a specific count focusing on youth.

They've also created a work group to address homelessness in kids with stakeholders like St. Vincent De Paul and 15th Night along with input from homeless youth in the area.

Through this group, they’ve applied for a million-dollar grant and should hear back in the fall as to whether they received it.

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