CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Hampden County was awarded a federal grant to create a plan to address the needs of homeless youth in our community. The 22News I-Team took a closer look at this plan and the problem of homeless youths locally.

There are currently about 90 teens and young adults on a waitlist for housing and the I-Team learned that the problem of homelessness with this population has only grown since the pandemic.

The city of Springfield has seen an uptick in the number of homeless youth. According to Springfield Housing Director Gerry McCafferty, young people like to be hidden, staying out of trouble and under the radar. A recent count found 112 homeless people ages 18-24, up 7 percent since the pandemic, an increase McCafferty calls conservative.

Zooming out county-wide, an average of 120 youth experience homelessness on a given night. The average age a youth first experiences homelessness is 17.4, as many as 80 percent of youths experiencing homelessness are female and some of these teens have children, too.

“About 50 of them were parenting young people, so they are 18 to 24 and have young children. And sometimes that’s the precipitating event that makes them homeless because parents force them out of the house because of the pregnancy,” said McCafferty.

Other reasons kids are homeless include aging out of the foster system and substance abuse. Homeless youths can be hard to spot, they often couch surf, stay in cars or find encampments.

Mark Watkins, a program director at SHINE Young Adult Housing, works one on one helping homeless kids get on their feet. He helps them secure housing, get job training and proper identification, “What we found is that when people actually have somewhere to live, it’s stable, it’s theirs… they do better.”

Draven Dolores experienced homelessness at the age of 16 and said it felt like he was drifting away from society, “I was in the background, like I was behind the curtain, behind the veil. It made me feel so depressed. It made me feel like nothing and people do bad things when they feel like that.”

Dolores’ personal strength and help from the Gándara Center’s Impact Center on Taylor Street, a place where homeless teens can get job counseling, wash their clothes, and even take a shower, got him on his feet. Now, he has his high school equivalency, an apartment, and a job.

“I’m really grateful that those spaces were there to provide me with the substance that I needed to recover, not only my pride but my dignity, my integrity. I’m in a place now where I am living my best life,” said Dolores.

If you are experiencing a housing crisis and are under 25, you can get help by calling 413-316-4979.