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Helping A Growing Number of 'Invisible' Homeless Teens

Homelessness is on the decline across the United States. In Florida, the  homeless population decreased at a record rate in the last year, with more than 2,300 homeless Floridians moving into shelter in 2016. Invisible among these encouraging numbers, however, are the growing number of homeless teenagers in the state.

Florida ranked third in the nation for homeless youth, and the number of homeless teens in Collier and Sarasota shelters and programs saw increases in 2016. The National Center for Homeless Education found the number of homeless students in Florida's schools soared to over 73,000 in 2014-15, an increase of more than eight percent.

These homeless teens may sleep on friends' couches or relatives' floors after losing their homes to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. They may skirt the federal government's legal definition of homelessness, making their numbers difficult to track. Many struggle to remain in school while also working to avoid the interventions—and associated stigma​—of administraors and social workers. 

Rising to meet the needs of the growing number of homeless teens are programs like  Youth Haven in Collier County, which is expanding Rob's Cottage, its transitional housing program for homeless teens. The Sarasota YMCA offers a similar independent living program, as well as a new "street program" designed to intervene with the most vulnerable before they resign themselves to a life on the streets.

Friday at 1 p.m. on Gulf Coast Live, 19-year-old Sydni McPherson shares her struggles as a homeless teen in Sarasota, and how working with Dawn Sakes and the Sarasota YMCA has helped her move toward sobriety and stability. We'll also speak with Debbie Mahr with Youth Haven, as well as Cynthia ​Rodriguez with the Collier County Public Schools' homeless students program, about how they are addressing the more than 600 homeless teens they've identified so far this school year. 

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Photo: U.S. Depatment of Housing and Urban Development /

Matthew Smith is a reporter and producer of WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live.