Capital Region shelters seeing more young people in need of help

In September, Marissa fled an abusive relationship and arrived at the City Mission of Schenectady, h

Categories: Schenectady County

In September, Marissa fled an abusive relationship and arrived at the City Mission of Schenectady, her 2-year-old son in tow.

Now she’s a resident in the mission’s long-term shelter for women and children, and plans to stay there for at least a year. The program, she said, has given her an opportunity to start her life over.

“I want to get my life back together,” said Marissa. “I want to look in the mirror and be happy with what I see. I want to forgive myself.”

The typical adult seeking help from the City Mission is between 30 and 50 years old, but Marissa is only 20. She’s one of an increasing number of young people seeking assistance from the organization.

“It’s a longer-term trend,” said Mike Saccocio, mission executive director. “Folks are getting younger, and we’re getting more and more children.”

Saccocio said he recently ran into a man who has been living at the City Mission, and learned that it was the man’s 20th birthday. “I thought, ‘He’s 20 years old, and he’s spending his birthday at the mission.’ ”

Marissa finished high school, graduated from a medical billing and coding program in June and works part time as a hostess at a restaurant. But when she decided to leave her boyfriend, she couldn’t afford her own place and didn’t have any place else to turn. Her family, she said, had grown weary of taking her back in, only to see her leave and return to her boyfriend.

“I’ve burned a lot of bridges with my family,” she said. “My family’s door is not a revolving door.”

“You kind of come in with your tail between your legs,” Marissa said of the mission. “But I was welcomed with open arms. This is a very loving community.”

Trend seen

Other local organizations say they are also noticing an increase in younger adults.

At the YWCA’s women’s shelter of Schenectady, younger women and their children have been staying at YWCA’s women’s shelter in increasing numbers, all having fled abusive relationships. “We’ve had babies born to young women in the shelter,” said Carole Merrill-Maruzek, services to women and families program director at the YWCA.

Merrill-Maruzek said the influx of younger women can be attributed to the fact that women are entering relationships at younger ages, and greater awareness about domestic violence and services for victims in the area.

“Younger women are taking advantage of those services,” she said. “They’re getting the message earlier.” She noted that Schenectady County has a high rate of teenage pregnancy, and that teen relationships are often unhealthy. The YWCA has also sheltered women who were fleeing gang involvement, she said.

Deb Schimpf, executive director of the Schenectady Community Action Program, said SCAP has experienced an increase in 18- and 19-year-old walk-ins. Most of these people are seeking emergency services with rent and food, rather than job help and other forms of long-term assistance. Schimpf said that in 2008 there were zero teenage walk-ins, but that in 2009 that number had risen to 15 and this year to 70.

“The question is why,” Schimpf said. “Why are there more teens? Is it because it’s so hard out there? We haven’t attributed it to anything in particular.”

Seeking a meal

Margaret Anderton, who serves as executive director of Bethesda House, a nonprofit organization in Schenectady that helps the needy, said Bethesda House has noticed an increase in young adults in several areas.

She said that recently five or six young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 have been visiting Bethesda House daily for a free meal. The group appears to live together, but the exact nature of the arrangement — whether they share an apartment, or are squatting someplace — is unclear.

In addition, more young parents are accessing Bethesda House’s food pantry, and several young adults have received help through the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which provides clients at risk of eviction with financial assistance and case management.

Anderton said the numbers of young adults seeking help from Bethesda House aren’t huge — about 30 people overall. What makes them noteworthy is that “normally we don’t serve that age group at all,” she said. “The vast majority of people we serve tend to be in the 40 to 60 age range.”

She said she would have a better sense of why younger adults are seeking help from Bethesda House, and whether it’s a trend, “in about three months.”

College students

Louise O’Leary, who serves as case manager for the Homelessness Prevention Program, said it has actually served a handful of college students, and currently counts as one of its clients a 20-year-old student at Schenectady County Community College. “She could be my daughter,” O’Leary said. The 20-year-old works two part-time jobs and is taking courses, but is also the oldest child in a large family that is unable to help her with rent or school expenses. “She can’t make ends meet,” she said.

Sue Jones, of the Capital City Rescue Mission in Albany, said it has been serving more college students — people taking courses at Hudson Valley Community College or the University at Albany, but who are unable to afford housing. “It’s trending toward younger people,” she said. But she said younger adults generally need the same things as the mission’s older clients, such as jobs and housing, and that the mission is prepared to assist them.

Not everyone is seeing an increase in younger adults and teens.

Ginny Stoliker at Shelters of Saratoga said that it is serving “a full house, all the time,” but that the average age is 35, and that there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in teens and younger adults.

Chris Parsons runs the City Mission’s long-term housing program for women, called the Family Life Center. She said there are 13 women currently living there and that five of them are under 25, and have children.

“We’re really talking about teenage moms,” Parsons said. “With the whole economic situation, if you’re a teenage mom without skills, and you’re unemployed or down on your luck, it can be kind of hard to juggle all that.”

Parsons said the Family Life Center has typically served women older than 25, but is now seeing more teens and women in their early 20s. In the past, these teens and younger adults weren’t all that interested in enrolling in the long-term program. But now “they’re coming and they’re staying,” she said. “They’re looking for more than shelter. They want something that will help them obtain skills and housing.”

Saccocio said young adults and teenagers have different needs than older adults.

“If you’re getting an 18- or 19-year-old, they probably haven’t graduated high school,” he said. “They probably don’t have a good work history. They need more resource building. They need more life skills.”

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