Teenage homelessness, a situation sometimes referred to as "couch surfing," is more common in the Wood River Valley than many people realize, says Silver Creek High School senior Taylor Jameson, who's working on solutions to the problem as her high school senior project.
She says the problem occurs because of discord at home—teenagers either leave voluntarily or get kicked out. They often end up staying with various friends.
Jameson said she chose the problem as her senior project because she wanted to do something for the community.
"I wanted to raise awareness and let people know what's going on," she said.
Jameson has been attending weekly planning meetings for the past several months with a fledgling community organization composed of Wood River High School language teacher Jean Bohl and representatives from St. Luke's Wood River, the Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, the Wood River High School Parent Teacher Association, Silver Creek High School and The Sage School.
Bohl said the group is working toward nonprofit designation, and the eventual goal is to establish a safehouse where homeless teenagers can stay when problems take them away from home. Bohl said a major component of the safehouse would be "restorative practices," in which teenagers and parents would receive counseling and help solving problems that occurred at home.
"It's not going to happen tomorrow, it's not going to happen next week, but we hope it can happen by next year," he said.
Bohl said he agrees with Jameson that teenage homelessness is much more prevalent in Blaine County than most people realize.
Results from a survey conducted by the organization show that 40 percent of all high school students know fellow students who have left or been kicked out of their homes within 60 days of when the survey was conducted. The survey involved students not only at the Blaine County School District's Wood River and Silver Creek high schools but also at the private Community School in Sun Valley and the private Sage School in Hailey.
Bohl said several of his own students have recently been temporarily without a home.
"I am a person who has seen that happen at the high school," he said. "I have heard a lot of disturbing things that slide under the radar. The whole thing about family dynamics is a dirty little secret in Blaine County."
Bohl said there are numerous problems that result from teenage homelessness. Schoolwork usually suffers, teens sometimes commit crimes such as shoplifting for food and being without a home can put boys and girls in potentially dangerous situations.
Furthermore, he said, if the problems that lead to teenage homelessness are not addressed, the situation tends to repeat itself.
Part of a safehouse program would be to help teens patch things up at home.
"It's not going to be a competitive issue, such as 'you're wrong and I'm right,'" he said. "We want both parents and kids to benefit from it."
Jameson said teenage homelessness is often caused by drug or alcohol abuse, but noted that it's not necessarily the teenagers who are the abusers.
She conducted her own survey to ascertain conditions that can lead to a teenager's being out of a home.
"From the survey I've also found there are kids being abused at home," she said.
One of Jameson's survey responses states "My mom hit me so I called the cops."
Another response states that problems are caused by "parents being intoxicated," leading to abuse and making the teenager feel unwanted.
Terry Smith: email@example.com
Fundraiser on Friday
As part of her senior project, Silver Creek High School senior Taylor Jameson has organized a fundraising event to raise seed money for a teenage homelessness project that she's working on with a fledgling community organization. The fundraiser, a spaghetti, salad and bread dinner, is set to run from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, at the Senior Connection at 721 S. Third Ave. in Hailey. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 10 and under. Bracelets and raffle tickets will also be available for purchase. For more information on the project or the fundraiser, contact Jameson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Wood River High School teacher Jean Bohl at email@example.com. Bohl can also be reached at 578-5020, ext. 2206.