Our Views: Project 16:49 merits your help so it can help Rock County's homeless kids

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Good things are happening at Project 16:49, which was established to provide safe, stable places to live for homeless students in Rock County.

Supporters estimate our county has 160 homeless, unaccompanied youths. Young people who don’t have the support of parents and other adults are at higher risk of failing to graduate and become productive members of society.

You won’t find these kids sleeping under bridges or on park benches. Instead, Executive Director Tammy DeGarmo says, many are “couch surfers” who drift from the home of one friend to another each week. Others live with extended family or with friends of their parents. A few resort to sleeping in cars.

DeGarmo says Rock County has no “typical” homeless child.

 “There’s really a variety of arrangements that they find, ways to get by. Everybody’s situation is different. The cause and how they’re dealing with it are all so very different.”

Don’t assume that these kids struggle with mental illness or substance abuse.

Instead, many of them left home because their parents are struggling with those issues, DeGarmo said.

Project 16:49 was named after a documentary and refers to the amount of time between school hours during which homeless children try to cope and stay warm, safe and fed. The organization was formed in 2008 and relied on volunteers until hiring DeGarmo as executive director in July. Her background with the American Red Cross, United Way and Forward Janesville makes her a good fit.

A board of directors is adding members and has raised more than $200,000. Project 16:49 will seek a federal grant that might offer between $100,000 and $200,000 annually for five years. Awards could be announced in April.

Project 16:49 hopes to buy or lease properties to house homeless students. It’s also seeking families willing to house homeless kids ages 16 and 17. It’s organizing intake forms and processes, hopes to hire a social worker/case manager by November and could admit children to programs by December.

Why does Project 16:49 merit your support?

“It’s a collaborative effort,” DeGarmo explains. “We are bringing together a lot of resources that the kids can use. So we’re not trying to re-create the wheel. I think the other thing our mission statement mentions is we empower the homeless, unaccompanied youth to take action to achieve their goals. That’s important. They play roles in their own destinies. It’s what they want to accomplish. It’s not what we can give the kids but what we can do to help them be self-sufficient adults.”

As we rush toward the giving season, consider giving homeless kids a helping hand.

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