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Youth Homelessness On The Rise, Suffolk Shelter Opens To Meet Need

The Hope for Youth family services organization is opening an emergency youth shelter on Tuesday morning in Suffolk County to help address the growing number of runaway and homeless children on Long Island.  

Jeanette Lukas is the program director of the new Suffolk County Youth Shelter. She says the Babylon-based shelter will replace another shelter that closed two years ago due to a lack of funding.      

“The kids that are going to come to the shelter are coming here because they have nowhere else to go. We’re gonna catch those kids before they end up in a really bad place.”

Suffolk health officials say these homeless and runaway children come from abusive homes, are malnourished and struggle in school.

A 12-bed shelter called Nassau Haven has been the only shelter serving all of Long Island’s homeless children during those two years. Its director of residential youth services, Bill Best, says that it has been a struggle to address the growing need.

“You know, we’re never full. We’ll put them on couches and get extra staff and get permission to do it because how do you leave a 14-year-old kid at three o’clock in the morning out on the street with no place to go because you’re full.”  

According to the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, there are over 2,400 runaway and homeless children on Long Island, with most of them from Suffolk.

Best says that number has been on the rise in the last five years, and it has made helping children more difficult.

“So there’s just a lot of unique challenges in such a fast-paced, constantly moving, changing environment like this. And then, when you’re the only one, and you’re taking kids from other counties…I always say this is sort of like the ER of housing for kids, because you don’t know what’s coming in on any given day.”

This is the first story in a series on homelessness and runaway youth on Long Island.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.