One weekend late in October, Madison youth and the town green were transformed. Madison teenagers joined together to participate in what has become the annual “Homeless Immersion” experience. Students built a virtual tent city using cardboard appliance boxes, duct tape, plastic, and tarps, then spent a cool Saturday night sleeping on the green in a simulation of homelessness.
Sunday morning dawned sunny, bright and cool, and after dismantling their makeshift shelters, the students ate a cold breakfast, and then split into groups to solicit donations from townspeople to support their cause, raising money for the Outreach Center for Youth Continuum, a full-service homeless shelter in New Haven ( http://www.youthcontinuum.org ).
The First Congregational Church hosted this opportunity for teens from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, North Madison Congregational Church, and the Shoreline Unitarian Universalist Society youth groups to come together to learn about homelessness among teenagers in their own community, nearby towns, and New Haven.
Kathy Grega, director of the Outreach Center for Youth Continuum, shared her knowledge and experience. Grega educated the group about the crisis affecting many families, and discussed supportive services offered by Youth Continuum, and answered many questions.
Grega noted that 90 percent of the teens who find themselves at the shelter are there for “family issues” and 10 percent due to drugs or alcohol abuse. Youth Continuum has shelter beds for teenagers 18 and under; unfortunately, the greatest need is for those 18-25 years of age. The Youth Continuum attempts to find them safe shelter beds, and assists in job training and placement, and makes it possible for many of these young people to continue their education. The shelter also helps to provide clothing and meals at their community food bank.
Generous Madison youth worked together in this event and raised funds to support their peers, other teens who may find themselves in the unfortunate and seriously vulnerable position of being without a home. Additionally, a grant applied for by the Saint Andrew’s Youth Group from The Madison Foundation was awarded to secure additional funding to help protect at-risk youths.