ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - Port in the Storm Homeless Youth Shelter management tells Action News Jax it will soon offer 16 first-come, first-served beds to unaccompanied homeless minors on a nightly basis.
There, they say eight boys and eight girls will find brand-new beds, showers, computers, hot meals, clothing and counseling.
Right now, the facility provides a variety of services for people up to age 24.
But the shelter beds will be available exclusively for kids 17 and younger, and administrators tell us the service will be the first of its kind in the county.
They tell us the proximity will allow homeless children to find help in an area that’s familiar, as opposed to having to travel outside the county for assistance.
Executive Director Judith Dembowski gave Action News Jax Reporter Ryan Nelson an inside look at the facility.
She tells Nelson the center will be able to open its doors to kids in need of help as soon as its sheltering license is approved by DCF. Dembowski says it’s an essential service to St. Johns County.
“More than half of youth that leave home have reported physical, emotional or sexual abuse in the home by a family member, or someone living in the home,” said Dembowksi.
According to the St. Johns County School District, there were 894 homeless children in public schools last year, with 216 of them having no adult supervision.
At the end of this school year, the district reports 787 total homeless children, with 169 living on their own.
Dembowski tells us many homeless children don’t have the option of returning to a home.
Nelson spoke to Port in the Storm case manager Megan Stanion, who shared her perspective on the issue of homeless children.
“I think there are more kids on the street than this community is aware of,” said Stanion.
She says the number of children living by themselves could be even higher than what’s recorded by schools.
She tells Nelson statistics often don’t account for kids in detention and mental health facilities, and those who don’t go to school.
Staff at the shelter tell us many children end up living in homeless camps, or on the street, if they can’t find help.
“Unfortunately, they’ve burned some bridges, either with their family or with the community, and so, we’re the last pillar standing for them to help them get through this,” she Stanion.
The shelter will hold an open house on Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to give the public an opportunity to see the shelter.
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