Norma Thomas, the coordinator of the Rhyme/Safe Place organization hopes that supplemental, quarterly counts of the number of youths who live on the streets will help the community build a connection among the youths and give them hope in these harsh times.
“We’re trying to create a presence in the community so that hopefully when it comes time in January they will have an idea that we are here,” Thomas said.
In January, an official Point in Time count is held, which officially counts the population of area youths. Last year 52 official surveys were taken. The count gives charitable and governmental agencies ideas as to who is impacted, how they are impacted and what the trends are. Homeless can mean the person is sleeping on the street, outdoors, in parks, by the river, on a rood, in a garage, attic, basement, an abandoned building, a place in a house (kitchen, couch or back room) or house on a temporary basis.
The 24-hour event that started Friday — where youths are surveyed and given food, water, clothing, hair cuts, hygiene products, git cards and other useful supplies — was hosted by a Reno Area Alliance for Homeless (RAAH) subgroup known as Homeless Youth Transition to Success (HYTS).
The subgroup, and partnering organizations, has pushed to create the quarterly count along with the yearly count to show the youth that other options exist for them, Thomas said earlier this week.
“We want them to know there are services out there for them and give them basic essentials such as food clothing and hygiene products,” she said.
Thomas also hopes that youths will continue to be present at future counts, and help support the growing number of homeless youths in the area.
Nevada Youth Empowerment Program, whose capacity specialist Cindy Ringer was available Friday to help any homeless youth who might stop in for the count.
“Historically, not only in Reno but in most communities, the homeless youth population is generally referred to as an invisible population,” Ringer said. “Its not that it doesn’t exist its just that they are generally hard to find.”
Ringer said she thought the quarterly counts were an important part of giving the youth a reliable resource.
“So, I think by developing a culture and a trust with the youth, they know they’re safe to come here,” Ringer said, adding youths who show up for more than one count will not be tampering with the numbers the poll produces. “It’s not necessarily that we are expanding the numbers, but the numbers will be more reflective of the problem.”
Another positive outcome of holding multiple counts during the year is the organization’s ability to cater to the specific needs of the homeless youth.
“We actually get to talk to them and find out what the real issues are, and what they really want,” Thomas said. “For example, one of the things they requested was sewing kits. Another was water. So we have those things in the bags we will give out.”
The youth count continues until 11 a.m. today at St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral, 310 W. Second St., in downtown Reno.