The Eddy House and the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Journalism teamed up to bring awareness to the nation’s fastest growing and sometimes deadly issue of youth homelessness that is affecting our community.
Eddy House is Northern Nevada’s only drop-in resource center. They provide on-site, trauma-informed and relationship-based services for homeless youth, ages 12-24.
During a recent event, “Where Will We Sleep Tonight?”, 10 youth shared their personal and heartbreaking stories of life and death on the streets.
These youth have lived through and watched their “squat mates,” whom they consider their friends and family, suffer under dire circumstances. From seeing friends die after being lit on fire in their own sleeping bags, or being brutally assaulted by groups of men, or even running into their biological parents who are shocked they’re still alive, these kids have seen it all.
Event host, Corey, shared her experience as a homeless youth between introducing other young men and women that told their stories.
As a straight-A high school student and a graduate of UNR during her time on the streets, Corey spoke about the “lucky” nights where 5-10 kids would pitch in to get a single motel room, to weeks of couch surfing at people’s places, and how riding the bus all night was usually a safer option.
Along with music pieces and spoken word poetry, two young women, Shawna and Baby Blue, presented short, intense video-documentaries that explained how they became homeless and detailed their lives on the streets.
Shawna lives with just one bed sheet under the bridges of Reno. She was kicked out of her home while in high school and quickly learned that a stay in homeless shelters only guaranteed greater exposure and more victimization to violent trauma.
Baby Blue lived in homeless shelters with her mother in California, but she eventually made her way here. At a young age, her aunts taught her how to turn tricks, where to go for the best business, and how much to charge clients.
As Corey introduced each homeless youth brave enough to share their story, her statement “kids don’t go to the streets like that [on drugs, violent, antisocial], the streets make them like that,” rang more and more true.
Recently, a beloved member of the Eddy House family, Devonte, tragically died from a bacterial infection in his heart that was contracted in one of the many weekly motels in the downtown area.
Devonte was 23 years. The last time his Eddy House family saw him was when his hospice worker took him there and everyone helped to carry him up the stairs to the house one last time.
Leading the Nation as a Data-Driven Organization
This year alone, over 1,000 youths have benefited from the services at the Eddy House. Over 71 percent of homeless youth come from Washoe County and 8 percent from nearby rural areas. The Eddy House serves 70 of these youths daily.
The top three reasons youth become homeless have been clearly documented. Life factors they are unable to control dictate their situation: child abuse, caregiver drug dependency, and domestic violence.
Michele Gehr, director of Eddy House, spoke about her previous work experience in New York City, where other variables impact the large demographic of homeless youth — parents who have passed away, families that abandoned them to move out of state, and parents that are incarcerated.
“Eddy House is what happens when all systems fail, and we need to own that as a community. This is a Nevada issue; this is homegrown. We need to take care of our own,” she said.
As a data-driven organization, Eddy House is the leader in gathering information on this growing problem. Their research documents 56 percent of homeless youth have had contact with the foster care system, roughly 70 percent have had Individual Education Plans in the school system. A heartbreaking 58 percent of youth are trafficked, while 28 percent have aged out of the system.
The Future of Eddy House
Demand is increasing and so is the need for more youth homelessness programs that provide both care and comfort services.
The Eddy House has identified an ideal location in the downtown corridor for a youth shelter. It is more centrally located and will provide greater access to reach a greater number of homeless youth.
Eddy house plans on their new youth shelter to be a 24-hour drop-in site with 50 beds. Their new location will include a larger program areas, classrooms, and a space for critically needed therapy.
Gehr said: “We are one of the only places in the country that can hold up to 104 youth, in just a 1000 square-foot house, without having altercations or problems.”
This is done because of the supportive environment where staff knows everyone’s names, their history, and their needs. Eddy House currently holds weekly Friday dinners to gather the youth homeless community and create this supportive environment that has now become an extended family.
Throughout the event of “Where will we sleep tonight?” the support for one another was palpable and the family environment at the Eddy House was evident. After each story was shared, the staff and youth were waiting close by to hug and give support after each presenter broke their silence and shared their intimate life struggles.