Youth At-Risk in Cleveland & Israel
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Homeless, missing youth in Cleveland, Israel grab spotlight
Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News.
By Amanda Koehn
According to Karen McHenry, program manager for homeless and missing youth at Bellefaire JCB, only 25 percent of missing children are reported missing.
Moreover, issues like the heroin epidemic, missing youth, homelessness and trafficking all affect Greater Cleveland on a daily basis, which McHenry and colleagues, both from Cleveland and Israel, discussed with 75 women at “Power of Women: Supporting Youth At-Risk at Home and Around the Globe” on Jan. 11 at Bellefaire’s Wuliger Chapel in Shaker Heights, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
McHenry, along with Beth Cohen Pollack, director of organizational advancement at Bellefaire, led a discussion to raise awareness about at-risk youth. She called the pervasiveness of poverty “one of the biggest issues.”
"What does homelessness look like in our community? It's everywhere. We get calls from every single school, we get one to three calls everyday” she said. “Every day a kid calls and says ‘I'm hungry’ or ‘I'm about to get evicted.’”
McHenry explained how mistrust of law enforcement contributes to Bellefaire’s challenges, as do stereotypes about homeless youth.
"There are a lot of issues with trusting the community so we are trying to rebuild those bridges, but it makes it really hard for us," she said.
She also said they work to prevent homelessness and youth from going missing by training city employees, like bus drivers and librarians, to help report teens they see around the community who could be struggling.
Cohen Pollack explained Bellefaire’s community campaigns to draw awareness to such issues. Two advertising campaigns Bellefaire has run in the past few years have received national attention.
“Probably the most important piece of that is it significantly increased the number of calls to the homeless youth hotline," Cohen Pollack said.
Also at the event, delegates from Youth Futures- a Federation-supported program in Israel that assists troubled youth- discussed need in their communities. Yaara Leitner, regional director for central Israel Youth Futures, and Raaya Porat, Youth Futures delegation director for Beit Shean, were visiting Northeast Ohio for 10 days as part of the Youth Futures Delegation program.
Leitner described how Youth Futures' 350 mentors around Israel work with troubled youth of all religions and ethnicities. They assist youth with school, visit their homes and work in conjunction with their other support systems like therapists, families, teachers and coaches.
"It's a long-term, intensive program which really tries to target the kids who could flourish and that could fulfill their full potential if they get this big brother sort of help," Leitner said.
Much like Bellefaire, the program is focused on prevention of homelessness and exploitation.
"We are trying to catch them while they are still functioning in the community," Leitner said.