Report: Homeless youth in Lane County at highest point in past two years

Numbers from the Point in Time Count show an increase of children living on their own in Lane County, May 16, 2018. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. -- There are more homeless youth in Lane County today than in the past two years, according to a new report by public health officials who counted the number of youth living in shelters or on the streets in a day.

We visited downtown Eugene to hear from people who call the streets their home.

We spoke with kids Wednesday aged 13-19 at the LTD bus stop sleeping on blankets on the sidewalk.

Some of them appeared younger than the ages they gave us.

Now, the numbers from the Point in Time Count show an increase of children living on their own.

But officials say this count is only for one day and it only accounts for the kids that we can see.

"I was in a juvenile detention center for about two years because I got caught up with a firearm possession," said a 16-year-old we’ll call James.

Hailing from Chicago, he was with a group of about 10 teenagers sleeping on the sidewalk when we talked to him.

Some of the other kids told us he’s actually 15.

"I come out here and I've been chillin’, I guess," he said.

When asked about his living situation, he says he sometimes lives with his mom in Junction City, but he says even sleeping on the streets is better than trying to survive Chicago.

"I always had a gun, I always was looking, I was selling drugs, I was doing tons of dumb sh** and, like, my dad is facing 237 years,” he told us. “He's a four-time convicted felon with murder charges.”

According to the newly released study, the number of homeless children in Lane County without parents doubled from 2017 to 2018.

In a school survey, Bethel and 4J counted 325 unaccompanied students for the last school year.

Megan Schultz works for 15th Night, a non-profit that tries to get kids off the streets. She says these numbers only account for the kids we see.

"It's really not capturing what's really happening,” said Schultz. “I think they're hidden in plain sight. I think they're out there; we just don't see them, but they're right in front of us."

That's in response to a Lookingglass Community Services study that children are more likely to be chronically homeless if they stay on the streets more than 14 days.

"Just be quiet; he's sleeping,” said another homeless teen we spoke with, 19-year-old Jordan Freed. “You put the seats forward, top up and put blankets all around, pillows, towels...anything soft, like clothes, and you just create a giant fort mattress."

Freed dropped out of the University of Oregon and now lives in his car. His visiting 14-year-old cousin sleeps in the backseat.

"Fourteen, fifteen-year-olds out there with no parents who don't care about them,” Freed explained, “there's kids there who don't have a home to go to."

"This is an issue,” said Schultz. “It's bigger than what the numbers show."

It’s a number that seems to be growing with the length of time these kids are on the streets.

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