The HOME Youth and Resource Center on Union Street Northeast in Salem. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Increased services and resources for youth experiencing homelessness are coming to the Marion-Polk area after a $3.7 million grant was awarded to the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance earlier this month. 

While the award was first announced on Sept. 15, Mayor Cathy Clark, who is also the Alliance Board Chair, shared the good news during the Sept. 20 Keizer City Council meeting. 

“This is going to be a fantastic opportunity for programs here to take it up to another level of service and effectively meet the needs of our youth and young adults,” said Clark. “Congratulations to the Homeless Alliance. This is an effort that was because we are all working together we were able to be one of the two in Oregon that were awarded this demonstration grant.”

The award came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, which awarded $142 million nationally to end and prevent homelessness. Lane County was awarded $3.3 million to fight youth homelessness as well.

“Seventy percent of our region’s homeless adults reported being homeless as a youth. Yet we have very limited resources for youth. There are no youth shelters in Polk and rural Marion counties, or Host Homes where families can shelter youth in their homes,” said Clark. 

According to Oregon Department of Education data from the 2019-2020 school year, nearly 2,000 students attending publicly funded schools in the Marion-Polk area were identified as homeless. More than half of those students came from the Salem-Keizer School District. 

Keizer City Councilor Laura Reid, who is a McNary teacher who also sits in on the Homeless Alliance meetings, said the last two years have been especially difficult for students faced with homelessness. 

“It’s very difficult for homeless kids because if they don't have regular access to the internet and can’t see online videos and homework, it’s very tough,” said Reid. “Also, when you’re focusing on basic survival needs such as food and shelter it makes it hard to think about much else.”

While Reid said more local resources are needed for youth experiencing homelessness, there is also a need to connect them with the available resources. 

“Homeless teens have very different needs than adults. They need their own kind of shelters and facilities, which we are starting to build that up but definitely need more,” said Reid.

Currently, according to Mid-Valley Resources, the only homeless service in Keizer is the Simonka House, which serves as an emergency shelter during extreme weather situations.

You can learn more about the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance’s mission at mwvhomelessalliance.org.

News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.