Local organization highlights growing concern of youth homelessness in central Ohio

#CBUSSEEUS launched their website last Wednesday. Their campaign officially began on Monday and it will run through February. (WBNS)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There are 3,000 youth in central Ohio who are homeless and 4,000 at risk for becoming homeless.

Those are statistics given to 10TV by Huckleberry House incoming director Sonya Thesing. She said 721 of homeless youth are students, 24 percent are pregnant and there is a total of 55,318 youth living below the poverty line in central Ohio.

10TV spoke with 19-year-old Sarah Chicoine, who at one point, slept on a different couch each night or week.

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"Around 13 or 14, I started staying at my house for probably like a week and then two weeks at other places," Chicoine said.

A few years later, she left home because of a bad family situation and never looked back. While continuing her education, she slept on friends or co-workers' couches. Chicoine had a backpack full of belongings, which she said is one of the biggest challenges — living out of a bag.

She said being homeless isn't just sleeping on the streets, it has several meanings.

"It's not having a stable place to go every night, having somewhere you know you are safe where you know you can have your next meal at," Chicoine said.

She also explained that it's not always who looks homeless either that is going through a tough time.

"It doesn't always have to be someone who is matted, dirty or looks like they're homeless it could be anybody, even a young girl," Chicoine said.

"The number one reason about 50% of time the answer is broken family relationships," Thesing said.

The incoming director of Huck House said another factor that contributes to youth homelessness is the limited number of available, affordable housing for youths.

Huckleberry House's program provides food, shelter, counseling, life skills and even an apartment for runaway teens ages 12 to 24.

Huckleberry House (WBNS)

"It gives us support and love that we've never had before," Chicoine said.

After months of ups and downs, she's two weeks away from getting her first apartment provided by Huck House.

"We at Huck House believe there are no bad children there are no bad people, we believe that things happen to people," Thesing said.

A hashtag, #CBUSSEEUS has started popping up on social media. It was created by Josh Fitzwater who is the founder of Holden Ellis a digital marketing agency. He's also part of Leadership Columbus, a nonprofit since 1974.

Leadership Columbus serves the community as a community leadership program. We spoke with program director, Robbie Banks, who said they have a ten month program with about 55 to 65 participants. They begin the class in September and graduate in June after completing the ten month signature program.

Part of the program is a requirement project that impacts the community, participants have to work with a nonprofit of their choice. They work in groups of four to eight and it has to be something that will benefit both the participants and the nonprofits.

That's where Josh Fitzwater and #CBUSSEEUS comes into play. Helen Speiser, part of Leadership Columbus and Fitzwater's participant team, said their group started their efforts beginning of this year.

She said it's important for the community to truly see the youth and see the issue of homelessness. Speiser said Fitzwater did a photo shoot with youth in a shelter and captured their story and how they're working with the shelter to overcome their challenges.

They launched their website last Wednesday. Their campaign officially began on Monday and it will run through February.

Speiser said they are looking toward the next steps and are looking for partners to work with. They recently established a fund with the Columbus Foundation called Youth Homelessness Response Fund, and they have posted a link on their website.

Leadership Columbus and the campaign is working with programs like Huckleberry House, Star House, Kaleidoscope Youth Center and The Center for Healthy Families.