That’s the number of youth who experienced homelessness last year in Allegheny County, according to the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, a local organization that fights each day to provide education, resources and hope to those without a stable home.
And the overwhelming majority of the 3,000 were Black youth.
“Just imagine, if you’re a 4-year-old, your mom’s in a very abusive relationship, you’re very fearful—the time comes when you have 15 minutes to escape, all you have is a backpack,” said Carlos Carter, executive director of the organization. “What do you put in there? That’s what a lot of families have to face, then the kid is in a shelter in a (sometimes) prison-like environment…where do you do your homework? There’s no computers, the mother is already distressed, it’s very traumatic for a child.”
Thus, the decades-old organization founded by Dr. Joseph Lagana has made it their mission to provide the computers, teachers, cooking classes and other resources that kids and teens may need while they are inside area shelters. HCEF partners with 27 local shelters, has 17 learning centers inside those shelters, and has after school programs at five of the shelters. “More importantly, it’s evolved into a child-friendly space that can be fun, inclusive, and also provides a space for us to bring our enrichment programs that foster creativity, critical thinking skills (arts and sciences),” Carter said. “It gives them a sense of dignity and pride where they feel human and valued.”
Of the 3,000 homeless youth in the county, Carter estimates his organization reaches about 650 of them. Over the years, they’ve reached youth of a middle school age or younger. But recently, the organization has increased efforts to assist high school students who are homeless, which includes those who are living with other family members or friends.