100-Day Challenge brings awareness, solutions to homeless youth

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FRANKLIN COUNTY – A new initiative backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is bringing a national spotlight to the issue of homelessness among the county’s youth through the Opening Doors campaign.

The campaign, which is the first federal strategic plan to address the problem, works to create a comprehensive response to prevent homelessness for all demographics, including youth, families and veterans. As part of this initiative, HUD and Opening Doors has nominated five rural communities across the U.S. to participate in a 100-Day Challenge to end youth homelessness. The five counties, including Franklin County, were identified based on past grant applications concerning the issue.

New Beginnings, a Lewiston-based organization that works with homeless youth and their families, is leading the 100-Day Challenge for Franklin County. Working together with a team of other community leaders, the challenge aims to bring fresh ideas to finding stable, healthy homes for youth.

According to New Beginnings’ Executive Director Chris Bicknell, Franklin County ranks the second most rural in the state, which is identified as being the most rural in the country. A press release from New Beginnings reported that less than 1 percent of teens in Franklin County receive outreach services, compared to the national average of 8 percent.

“We want to reinvigorate the efforts here. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, but working closer with the community to find a solution,” Bicknell said.

The community leaders involved with the efforts include organizations such as United Way of the Tri-Valley Area, Safe Voices, Healthy Community Coalition and Western Maine Homeless Outreach as well as others. A group of these leaders have determined an action team to head the project and will begin meeting the first week of Dec.

The team has defined two goals for the initiative to focus on: “Creating safe spaces, available 24 hours a day, for youth who are experiencing homelessness or who are in crisis,” and “Creating a shared knowledge of the available resources for youth experiencing homelessness in Franklin County.”

“We want to think of unique and innovative ways to meet these goals. We want to look at things more differently than ever before,” Bicknell said.

With national support for the challenge, experts will be brought in from HUD as well as A Way Home America, The Rapid Results Institute and HomeBase. Both AWHA and HomeBase are non-profits dedicated to ending homelessness, while RRI works with communities to organize, train and lead 100-day initiatives. Over the course of five years, RRI has housed 150,000 homeless Americans in 80 different communities, according to their website.

“A lot of homeless kids in rural areas of Maine end up in the shelters in Bangor, Augusta or Portland. They couch surf until they’ve burned all their bridges then head to the urban areas. But when they do that they lose their network, their connections and their supports. We want to figure out how to better serve them in their own communities, so that they don’t lose all that. If we can create something that works here we can probably replicate it in other rural areas across the state,” Bicknell said.

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