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15th Night Project Aims to Reduce Youth Homelessness

According to local homeless advocates, 273 students in Eugene were homeless and living without a parent or guardian last year. On top of that, 90 students dropped out, and advocates believe they have moved to the streets.

In response to this, activists and the city of Eugene formed 15th Night, a collaborative approach to help prevent youth homelessness in the 4J and Bethel school districts.

Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz says that if homeless youth “spend more than 14 consecutive nights on the street, there’s a good chance they’ll become chronically homeless.” Thus, the name “15th Night” is about how to intervene and help youth connect with needed resources and programs.

Megan Shultz helps coordinate 15th Night, which started around three years ago, and she works closely with its Youth Advisory Council, primarily made up of kids who have been formerly homeless or students who care strongly about the issue and want to help.

“Some of the questions we asked were, ‘What services would a youth have needed to help prevent them from going on the street?’” Shultz says. “Also, ‘Once you were on the street, what kinds of services did you need that would have helped you get off earlier than you did?’”

The group came up with a list of about 50 resources and services that would be helpful in keeping young people off the street. These sources are connected through their Rapid Alert Network app, which was launched at the beginning of the school year. The app, still being beta tested, sends notices to providers when there is a student in need with the goal of eliciting faster response times. Some of these providers include Looking Glass Community Services and Hosea Youth Services. 

Deborah Dailey, the McKinney-Vento homeless student liaison for Eugene School District 4J, is one of the key resources on the list. The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal program that protects the educational rights of students.

“It is building a rapport and relationship with them, whether it’s a counselor, a teacher or me,” Dailey says of her position. “I’m looking and listening to conversations with youth about how they can help.”

As coordinators talked with homeless students, they found that many of them did not feel they had any kind of relationship to lean on. Homeless youth didn’t think they had someone they could trust or someone who cared enough to reach out to them.

According to Ruiz, the Youth Advisory Council seeks to mobilize others in schools through peer-to-peer connections. “We’re trying to make this more youth-centered, as opposed to a youth afterthought,” Ruiz says. “It’s really about their experiences and their stories as opposed to what we think their stories and experiences should be or should’ve been.”

All parties involved in 15th Night agree that preventing young people from winding up on the streets is a community effort. “Part of our responsibility is to educate our community on the issue,” Shultz says, “but also to inspire them to act.”

“A lot of people have stepped up,” Dailey says of the individuals and programs that have expanded some of their requirements to allow homeless youths to receive the help they need. “They’re willing to give their time, their talent and their money.”

Ruiz says he hopes to bring the number of kids dropping out to zero, and he’d like to create a sort of tool kit that the program can share with other communities to help reduce the homeless and dropout rates in other cities.

“We’re trying to create a movement or a cause instead of another nonprofit, because we have a lot of agencies and nonprofits that are doing really good work around homeless youth,” Ruiz says. “If we focused some of our energy and our resources, we could get to a point where none of our youth have to end up on the street.”

For more information, visit 15night.org or email info@15thnight.help.