Growing concern in Menomonie about homelessness - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Growing concern in Menomonie about homelessness among young adults

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Menomonie (WQOW) - There is a growing concern in Menomonie about homelessness among young adults.         

Stepping Stones Shelter Coordinator, Heidi Hooten, says, "I've had a couple of 18 year olds who were in abusive households, and it just go to the point for their own safety, that decided to leave or were kicked out by the abusive parent."

Heidi Hooten has been the shelter coordinator for three years. She says, "The second year I started working for Stepping Stones I suddenly started getting calls from the school and getting 18 year olds. People that had aged out of foster care that were looking for shelter."

In this last school year, Heidi says she's been in touch with at least 10 different students at Menomonie High who have been living in homelessness.

"The reason you don't see or hear about a lot of teens being homeless is because they couch surf because they go and they spend the night with their friends and they stretch that out as long as they can and then they go to the next house and so they bounce around a lot," says Heidi.  

That fact also makes it difficult to get an idea of how widespread the concern is in Menomonie. 

Heidi says, "I mean you're not seeing them over at Walmart with a sign, you know, "Feed me I'm homeless." They are at friends' houses. So it's kind of hard to put you're finger on how many are there actually of these kids that are homeless."

Heidi says it's rare to see them in the shelter. She says, "I think they recognize that they are homeless but that doesn't necessarily mean they want to come to a shelter. And that's hard for a lot of people to get over that stigma that gets attached to a shelter."

Heidi says she helps students find affordable housing and apply for government assistance programs like FoodShare. "When you're low income and you're looking for services, you have to be able to read government language and kids don't understand what it means. Heck, part of the time I don't understand what it means!"

She says, "If you don't have any money to pay your way to stay with people, at some point in time, somebody is going to ask you to trade something that is illegal or something really precious. And that's what I get concerned about. It's really hard because I see how much they have to accomplish to stay safe, and I just feel really strongly that children should be taken care of and loved as long as they need that," says Heidi.  

Heidi says part of the reason she has been seeing more young adults in recent years is word of mouth... But she also says the economy has made it more of a challenge for them to get jobs.

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