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Nonprofits Connect Disadvantaged Youth with Opportunities

Shelters across the country offer food, clothing, shelter—and Wi-Fi

For teens growing up in poverty, or young adults who are homeless, the world can look like a bleak place. These youth need opportunities to overcome the adversity they face and achieve success.

Shelters and other nonprofit organizations play a critical role in providing these opportunities by offering stable housing, food, and other basic necessities to young people in need—as well as access to technology and other resources so they can continue their education and lead independent lives.

Statistics show there is an urgent need for these kinds of services. About 15 million children in the United States—or 21 percent of all U.S. children—live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold, the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) reports. However, this threshold has been shown to underestimate the needs of families. Studies show that, on average, families need an income of about twice the poverty level to cover their basic living expenses. Using this standard, 43 percent of all children can be said to live in low-income families.

“Most of these children have parents who work, but low wages and unstable employment leave their families struggling to make ends meet,” the NCCP says. “Poverty can impede children’s ability to learn and contributes to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor health and mental health.”

Food security, shelter, clothing, and other basic necessities are obvious needs, but perhaps less obvious is the need for access to information, education, and job opportunities that the internet provides. While 90 percent of adults with household incomes of $75,000 and above have access to broadband service, only 45 percent of adults with household incomes below $30,000 do, according to Pew Research. As the digital divide between low-income Americans and their wealthier peers continues to grow, this puts youth who grow up in poverty at an even further disadvantage that can be difficult to surmount.

“Americans who don’t have access to the internet are increasingly cut off from job opportunities, educational resources, health-care information, social networks, and even government services,” Lawrence E. Strickling, former head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, noted during a 2013 forum.

Shelters and other nonprofits can help fill this gap, providing not only access to basic necessities but also digital opportunities.

For instance, Covenant House California provides shelter, food, clothing, Wi-Fi access, and other support services for more than 1,800 homeless and trafficked youth ages 18-24 each year. And thanks to a recent makeover, youth served by the shelter’s Los Angeles branch have access to a LocknCharge FUYL Tower to keep their phones and other devices fully charged and secure, so they can complete schoolwork, look for a job, or even just stay in touch with family and friends.

Provided by the state-of-the-art mobile device charging station has separate, secure compartments for keeping up to 15 cell phones, tablets, or laptops charged and secure. Each individually lockable compartment is equipped with a power outlet and a 2.4 amp USB port, so the teens and young adults served by Covenant House Los Angeles can securely store and charge nearly any device they might own.

The stories of youth whose lives have been transformed by Covenant House are quite powerful. For instance, Jennifer entered the foster care system at age three. She was placed in her first group home at age 15. When she was 18, she left the foster care system and became homeless, with no place to go. “She was lost, unsure of her future, and hurting deeply,” according to the Covenant House website.

But through the safety and support, she discovered at Covenant House, she was able to find success. She went to cosmetology school, began earning money, and eventually became independent. She has remained connected with Covenant House over the years through volunteering, and recently she was asked to become a peer advocate for youth in the foster care system. She became a case manager, and now she works as part of the shelter’s 24-hour response team supporting victims of trafficking.

“Jennifer’s work has opened doors for hundreds of young people, just as Covenant House and our staff opened doors for her,” the organization’s website proclaims. 

Shelters and nonprofits such as Covenant House have become increasingly important as the number of homeless youth in the United States has continued to rise. The Washington Post reports that the number of homeless children in U.S. public schools has doubled since before the 2008 recession, reaching a record total of 1.36 million students in the 2013-15 school year, according to federal data. That’s nearly 3 percent of the nation’s public school students.

“One of the things we note during recessions is that young families and kids tend to be the ones who go into poverty first,” Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children, told the newspaper. “But also on the back end, kids are the last to recover.”

Read more about LocknCharge and Covenant house on our blog.

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