FARMINGTON — There is a movement underway in Franklin County to create a network to provide options for homeless youth, giving them a safe place to stay and creating long-term solutions to the problem.

The county has been chosen as one of five sites nationally to participate in the 100-Day Challenge to end youth homelessness.

“The Maine definition of youth homelessness is a person who is 21 years of age or younger who is unaccompanied by a parent or guardian and is without shelter where appropriate care and supervision are available, whose parent or legal guardian is unable or unwilling to provide shelter and care or who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence,” according to information provided by Chris Bicknell, executive director of New Beginnings.

Bicknell was a speaker on youth homelessness at a forum Thursday night at Old South First Congregational Church. The panel included young people who had been homeless who shared thoughts on what needs to be done to create support for the youth.

New Beginnings applied to lead the effort for Maine piloting the challenge in Franklin County.

Bicknell said some people don’t think there is youth homelessness in Maine. However, 1,481 youths were homeless last year in just three counties where a count was conducted, he said.

There are probably about 3,000 youths who are homeless throughout Maine at any given time, he said.

The challenge is to make an effort to create a network of support in the community for them and to find safe places for them to stay.

Most youths do not identify themselves as homeless, Bicknell said. Most have a family conflict and go to another home when in crisis. Other reasons for homelessness include becoming too old to be eligible for foster care, abuse at home and being part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Those participating in the challenge include churches, community members, local agencies, school officials and law enforcement. It is an initiative to end youth homelessness with the hope of building a more coordinated system to better identify and support homeless youth.

Among the opportunities to help are:

• A business could consider opening its doors to youths as a place to get warm and hydrated, and allow them to stay for a bit.

• Become a host family.

• Provide meals for those who host a youth.

• Provide transportation for the youth.

• Be a supportive presence, a listening ear for someone who is a host.

• Mentor a youth in a host family.

• Provide financial assistance or donations including gift cards for food, survival gear, warm clothing, job interview clothing, footwear, gas vouchers or hygiene items, among other things.

To contribute goods or support, contact the Rev. Rothea Kornelius at 778-4705, or by email at [email protected]

To join the 100-Day Challenge team, contact Chris Bicknell at 795-4077.

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