PHOENIX - Kids as young as 12 years old who are living on the streets have been called the invisible population. One organization is hoping to save as many kids as they can.
“This is the dining room,” Mike Romano said. “This is the laundry room. These are clothes that have been donated to us."
Romano, 18, is showing 3TV around the Tempe Youth Resource Center. It’s a place homeless teens like him can drop in and get services like these, but more importantly a place to call home during the day.
“When I actually realized how hard it was living on the streets, I was at the Salvation Army getting help and they told me about Tumbleweed,” Romano said.
Romano became homeless after his mom went to prison. He and many other Arizona homeless youth are getting help from the resource center that’s affiliated with a non-profit called Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development.
“Our average length of stay is anywhere from three to six months in the program,” Jana Smith said.
Smith is the resource center's program manager. In addition to offering basic services to homeless people between 12 and 25 years old, they also help them put a plan together to get them off the streets.
“We can help with getting ID's and getting birth certificates,” Smith said. “We can connect them to other community resources for either mental health or substance abuse. We can pay for GED's. We can get kids enrolled in high school.”
According to a 2009 report by the Arizona Homeless Coordination Office, nearly 5,000 kids under the age of 18 experience homelessness and receive help through non-profit organizations.
“These kids are out here,” Smith said. “They're out here every night and they're young people who deserve the chance to have a better life.”
“It’s tough,” Romano said. “You sleep one night on the street and hopefully you can find a place the next day. I eat as much as I can Monday thru Friday because on the weekends, Tumbleweed is closed and I don't have anywhere to eat.”
“There are not nearly enough beds in the community that we need,” Smith said. I mean that is a huge issue. “
For those still waiting for a safe place to sleep and ones who may not even know about the Tempe Youth Resource Center, they have what is called an outreach team. These are people who walk the streets at night to give homeless teen’s water, snacks and information.
“If you look inside here and take some shots down there, you'll see some backpacks and other things that are out there,” Katrina Murray said.
Murray and Robert Ramos are members of the outreach team. On this night, they showed us some of the places young people sleep, everywhere from abandoned buildings to trees.
“They just need an outlet, Ramos said. “They need someone to talk to and someone to let them know what's going on in their lives.”
“You want them to feel comfortable enough and trust that their willing to let you know what their name is and what issue they’re having for that night,” Murray said.
Romano is thankful he turned to the resource center for help. They're not only giving him a chance to get back on his feet, but also a chance to make it on the outside.
“It's basically like family here,” Romano said. “You help people out and later on in life whenever they can give back to you they will.”
Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development
The center is located at 1419 N. 3rd Street #102 in Phoenix, AZ 85004. For more information call 602-271-9904 or go to Tumbleweed. you can also "Like" them on Facebook.