LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – There is an unassuming building in Lexington, that serves as an emergency shelter for children ages six weeks to 18 years-old. Ginny Vicini runs Arbor Youth Services. “One side of the house is where the boys are, one side is where the girls are,” she showed WKYT’s Miranda Combs. The house is full most of the time. Vicini said kids show up in the middle of the night, 24/7.
Vicini and Lexington Homelessness Prevention Director Charlie Lanter have spotted a troubling trend: the homeless population is getting younger. “It scares me,” Lanter said. “Because when I walk out of my office now, I see more young people on the streets. And I know they are on the streets because they won’t go to shelters.”
Katie Dunlap is homeless. “Finding a place to sleep each night is the hardest part,” she told Combs. “Every day it’s just like living on the edge.” She is part of the trend of 18 to 24 year-olds living on Lexington’s streets. She’s stuck in a rut and can’t seem to get out. “I’m just as terrified to be where I’m at. I’m trying.”
Lanter said, “It’s no wonder that someone who turns 18 or 19 and falls out gets stuck. Look at all the strikes they had against them.” Lanter called the teens a ‘unique homeless’ because they are starting out with nothing, and when you have nothing, it’s difficult to get a place to stay or a job. “What happens is that is creating a sort of small generation of youth that are coming up through the system, aging out, and having no where to go.” He continued, “All that on top of a system on the streets that’s ready and willing to suck them into that culture.”
“I don’t really have an answer to it, we’re just seeing this trend. I don’t really know exactly why it’s happening,” said Lanter. He and Vicini blame a lot of this on a bloated foster care system, so many kids exiting the system at 18 with no where to go.
Vicini can’t keep kids in the emergency shelter past age 18. “They have to leave here at 18. We have no control over that,” she said.
Lanter said the issue of youth homelessness will be a focus for city officials in the coming year.