Boston Is Ahead of the Curve in Combatting Youth Homelessness

The topic of homelessness and substance abuse crop up at about every meeting in the South End and Back Bay nowadays, but in most cases the topic involves adults only.

A more common, pernicious and hidden problem is that of youth homelessness, and Boston and its corporate partners were honored last Friday at the More Than Words Bookstore in the South End as being on the cutting edge of ending this struggle for young people.

The event was highlighted by a commitment from Liberty Mutual – headquartered in the Back Bay – to provide $5 million in philanthropic grants to organizations in Greater Boston trying to combat youth homelessness. On Thursday, More Than Words was one of 19 organizations awarded in the first round of the grant process – a award ceremony attended by Mayor Martin Walsh and a national youth homelessness advocate.

Amina Johnson, a participant at More Than Words, led off the morning with her story of trying to navigate being homeless and going to school. At the age of 10, her mother lost their housing, and they lived in a shelter and at various other homes.

“I was moving around a lot with my mother and scrounging for food,” she said. “I tried to stay in school and keep up my grades, but my mom really didn’t care if I did or not, and so it didn’t last. I dropped out in the 12th grade. Homelessness can make your life chaotic even when you’re trying to get your life on track.”

Johnson came to More Than Words recently, and has procured a stable room to live, and is working towards college.

“The first thing I did was decorate my door and I went out and got a fish, too,” she laughed.

Liberty CEO David Long said his company is committed to helping organizations end youth homelessness.

“This money comes on behalf of young people who are homeless and often fly under the radar and are predominantly LGBTQ,” he said. “They have been kicked out and let down by so many people. They have to focus on how to survive and not thrive. They need employment, they need housing, they need someone to believe in them. Young people who are homeless are often hidden in plain sight.”

Mayor Martin Walsh said he ran for public office to help young people in this kind of situation. He praised Liberty Mutual for not just donating, but caring.

“This isn’t people in a board room checking off some box for a donation that had to be made,” he said. “They do this because they sincerely want to help.”

A Way Home American Director Amy Gibbard Kline said the issue has become more prominent around the country, but that Boston has the magic formula.

“This is an unusual community in Boston and Liberty Mutual is an unbelievable company and you have got people on the ground,” she said.

Those from the downtown neighborhoods receiving grants included:

•Boston Health Care for the Homeless – $450,000.

•Fenway Health – $300,000.

•Smart from the Start – $90,000.

•More Than Words – $450,000.

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