INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hundreds of homeless teens roam the streets of Indianapolis and one organization, Outreach Inc., a non-profit that equips and empowers homeless teens, is providing them stability as they transition into adulthood.
Outreach Inc. was founded in 1996 as the first organization in Indianapolis entirely dedicated to serving homeless teenagers. It serves youth through a Drop-In Center located at 2822 East New York Street, where youth can go to do laundry, eat a meal, meet with mental health counselors and find help obtaining legal documents such as birth certificates and social security cards.
“A lot of the teens that we minister to lack hope,” says Outreach Founder & CEO Eric Howard. “So, we try to provide food, clothing, basic first aid, authentic relationships with no strings attached and just a safe place in the midst of the world to bring about stability and life transformation.”
Eion Cooper, 21, became homeless in 2011 when he describes feeling abandoned by his family as the twelfth child in a line of 14.
“I felt pretty much abandonment from my family by not having someone show you what to do every day,” says Cooper. “[While homeless] I was waking up every day saying ‘thank you, I’m alive.'”
Every six months, Outreach Inc. asks youth to answer intimate questions about issues concerning sleep habits, sexual practices and drug use.
One question reads “what have you witnessed since becoming homeless?” The options are stabbing, rape and murder. Teens are asked to check off all that apply.
“We partner with a mental health agency that has said a lot of our youth display characteristics of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and they’re 17, 18, 19 years old — simply because of what they’ve experienced while being homeless,” says Howard.
Outreach Inc. has 15 staff members and more than 300 annual volunteers. Howard says the organization has a $965,000 annual operating budget; 17 percent of it is used for administrative costs and the remaining 83 percent goes toward direct services for homeless youth.
“It can be heart-wrenching when you come to work at 8 o’clock in the morning and there’s someone who’s sleeping on your porch,” says Drop-In Center Coordinator, Anthony Dumas. “But the beauty of working here is seeing the redemption, seeing the peace that we can put on someone’s face — seeing the confidence when they know they have someone who has their back.”
Dumas was instrumental in helping homeless teen Eion Cooper obtain his GED and get an apartment.
Currently, Outreach Inc. operates in IPS and Pike Township schools to help homeless teens graduate. The organization has been asked to enter two other school districts.
Howard says Outreach Inc. has two immediate needs:
- Financial resources in the form of gift cards in $10 increments so that staffers can treat homeless teens to meals while connecting with them
- Two vehicles to transport teens to and from jobs and school
For more information on how to help Outreach Inc., click here.
Homeless teens are encouraged to visit Outreach’s Drop-In Center (2822 East New York Street) on Tuesday and Friday mornings. For more information, click here.