By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- It's hard to shower and get ready for school when you don't have running water -- or a house for that matter -- but that's what more than 100 teens in the Treasure Coast area did during the school year last year.
Andrew, whose last name is withheld for security reasons, was one of those teenagers trying to stay in school but not able to live at home due to a hostile relationship. Rather than give up, his solution was to begin living in the woods and showering at the school.
He knew the importance of education and chose to use the work ethic imparted to him by his ROTC training to stay motivate and finish school.
"I know I will not make it in this world without finishing school and my goal is to join the Army one day," Andrew said in a press release.
A counselor with the Children's Home Society of Florida transitional living program reached out to Andrew and through her influence, he decided to try living at Baines Hall in Vero Beach so he wouldn't have to worry about being safe or needing food.
In December, Andrew graduated and received his high school diploma, and is employed at Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, enrolled at Indian River State College and is well on his way to building a strong future for himself.
As part of the program, students can receive safe housing, education and career guidance and training on how to live independently.
Michelle King, director of development for the Children's Home Society of Florida Treasure Coast chapter, said though the Children's Home Society of Florida is known for reaching out and standing in the gap for foster children who are being turned out of the foster program at age 18, Baines Hall in Vero Beach has become a place to reach out to homeless teens outside the foster system.
In the 2011-12 school year, Treasure Coast high schools reported 148 students were homeless. In Indian River County, the number of confirmed homeless students was 33.
"In 2012, a grant from the Indian River Community Foundation allowed the foster system's group home to be converted to be used for the 'homeless in high school' population," Ms. King said. "Supporting these students with time and financial donations mean those students are far less likely to need help and support later on in life."
Statistics show that without help, 33 percent of the students will remain homeless, 50 percent won't obtain a high school diploma or a GED, 37 percent will be incarcerated within three years and 60 percent will become parents within four years, a press release said.
Baines Hall has the capacity for 12 people, currently there are nine individuals in the program, Ms. King said.
"I have teenaged kids and I want to give them the world, these kids don't have someone in their life that wants that for them," she said.
For more information about the homeless in high school initiative, contact Ms. King at (772) 344-4020 Ext. 231.
For more information about the Children's Home Society of Florida, visit www.chsfl.org.