In a conference room just outside town, people from all walks of life and backgrounds gathered to find ways to help homeless youth in Brown County.

About 60 people attended the first meeting of the Brown County Homeless Teen Task Force Feb. 17.

Needs identified including creating an emergency shelter; establishing a formal communication network to inform people of agencies that can help; and a finding a place to send youth to receive those resources.

Guardian Ad Litem Director Sallianne Murphey said there’s a shortage of foster homes here. If children need to be placed through Department of Child Services, there are few places to put them.

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Also mentioned were establishing a place for young families to go who are in need of assistance, such as life skills coaching, legal aid, conflict resolution or other lessons.

A safe place to send homeless LGBT youth was brought up; a faith-based place might not work for them, audience members said.

Another need is a consistent way to count who is homeless, said Director of Student Services Alan Kosinski. He said school leaders have already begun talking about that.

The federal government’s definition of homeless children include those living in shelters, in transitional housing, cars, campgrounds, motels or in the homes of relatives or friends.

After meeting with principals earlier that day, Kosinski said the official number of “significant cases” had risen from 13 to 20.

“We’re talking about the most significant cases — the kids that we know of, that the principals know … moving to a place where they really don’t want to be living in,” he said.

“Some of the couch-surfer kids you mentioned who are really on the edge in terms of where they’re going to be from night to night and week to week and have to figure it out — we want to count those kids as homeless,” he continued.

The district probably won’t count the “couch-surfers” who are in their junior or senior year — children whom other people have taken in and created a situation that works better than living with their parents.

“Are we going to count them as homeless? Probably not. They’re eating regular meals, they’re having a good life and playing sports,” Kosinski said.

The next meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25. Agency representatives and community members will break into groups based on their occupation, interests or resources to work on the next steps toward solutions.

Opening their doors

Parent Lisa Stringer has taken in kids who had nowhere else to go.

When she lived near Nashville for a year, she would pick up students who got off work late in town because their parents would not do it.

“I have taken all of these kids home because I wanted to meet their parents and tell them what I did,” she said during the meeting.

“Then it happens over and over and over again. What do I do? OK, I pick them up and I bring them home. ‘Do your parents know you are here?’ ‘Oh yeah, they love you.’ It got to be not just weekends. (That) was my issue.”

Retired school psychologist Bob Young has taken in a half-dozen children over the years.

“So many times you have to sort out whether this child is, ‘Oh, I just don’t want to do my homework tonight,’ or ‘Oh, stepdad is molesting me,’ and everywhere in between that,” he said.

Young cautioned people who are eager to bring homeless youth into their homes to know what they could be getting into. That child’s parent could allege kidnapping or accuse them of harming the child, he said.

“I really applaud Brown County for trying to take this on, but you got to open your eyeballs. … You have to look out for yourself; you have to look out for the child,” he said.

Amanda Kinnaird from Centerstone mental health services encouraged people to call the Department of Child Services’ hotline at 1-800-800-5556 when they discover a homeless youth.

“You don’t have to decide if they’re being molested by stepdad or if they don’t want to do their homework,” she said. “The Department of Child Services will do that, and you’ll be protected legally if you do make that phone call. You’ll protect yourself, for one, and you’ll also protect that kid in the best possible way and DCS will give you resources,” she said.

“If you’re a safe place and they assessed the situation, they will tell you everything you need to get a kid connected up to any resource under the sun without opening a case,” she said.

Without DCS’ involvement, homeless youth are also not able to receive the services of a Guardian Ad Litem, who can represent their interests in court.

“When it’s just out in the open community and people casually offer their homes to kids, we can’t help them,” said Murphey, who specializes in working with older teens.

Patricia Krahnke, who led the meeting along with Larry Hanson, said it doesn’t matter how these youth became homeless. The community has a responsibility to help them.

“When people start pointing fingers at kids or fingers at parents … I don’t care. I don’t care. It is a child who is in formative years. … I don’t know why Dad kicked him out and I kind of really don’t care,” Krahnke said.

“I also know that parents struggle. Parents have their own demons, their own everything. But as a community, we have to come together for all of our kids and help raise these kids up, and make them OK.”

Next meeting

The next Brown County Homeless Teen Task Force meeting will start 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 at Creekside Retreat Conference Center (the former Creekstone Apartments and Wabash Apartments) on State Road 46 East. All are welcome.

Donations to high school

Brown County High School has received donations of money, gift cards, clothing, toiletries and offers of shelter since a story on homeless students ran Feb. 3.

Clothing can no longer be accepted at the school due to a lack of space, said administrative assistant Pam Bond said.

Clothing donations can be made  to God’s Grace, St. Vincent DePaul and the Community Closet, which work with the high school to make sure students have clothing that they need.

Gift cards from area restaurants and grocery stores are ideal donations because they can be kept for current and future needs of students in crisis, Bond said.

“We are thankful to have these agencies in our county and appreciate their willingness to work with us,” Bond said.