By Justice Colmon
On Oct. 20 at the Marple campus, Valerie Johnson, assistant director of development at Valley Youth House and co-founder of “Couches Don’t Count” campaign held the “Valley Youth House” event.
The event, which focused on Valley Youth House, as well as the homeless LGBTQ population in Pennsylvania, was attended by more than 13 people.
According to Johnson, the organization’s mission is to “empower and strengthen the lives of children, youth, and families through inclusive programming that builds resilience and fosters growth and independence.”
Valley Youth House is located in 11 counties: Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia.
“Sometimes what you can do to help someone is to accept them for who they are, no matter their situation or background,” Johnson said while reflecting on their mission. “Acception and emotional support is the best you can do to help these people.”
Johnson explained that the school districts of Philadelphia did a study two years ago when they revealed that 4,000 of their students have experienced homelessness and almost 2,000 youth identified as LGBTQ are possibly living on the street.
“So Valley Youth House decided to start our own ‘Youth Count’ by searching during the afternoon, with some of our youth guiding us to places that they know their counterparts may be,” Johnson said. “By doing this we discovered that at least 50 percent of the youth we surveyed during the youth count are not living on the street. They’re couch surfing.”
To raise awareness of this situation, Valley Youth House created a campaign called “Couches Don’t Count” because couch surfing is not stable housing.
Johnson explains that the “Couches Don’t Count” campaign communicates with others by going to areas frequented by homeless people and positioning a couch outside with someone who looks homeless sitting on it. Doing so grabs people’s attention, thereby starting a conversation on homeless LGBTQ issues.
Along with the “Couches Don’t Count” campaign, there is also a “Pride Program,” a running program for LGBTQ youth in Philadelphia.
According to Valley Youth House’s website, “sheltering Pride is a giving program that supports the Pride Program by connecting donors oneon-one to youth experiencing homelessness. For as little as $5,600, you can provide rental support, life skills counseling and move-in essentials for a young person in need for six months.”
She explained that housing is one of the top needs for homeless LGBTQ, because “to have a job they need to have a house, and to have a house they need to have a job.”
“We have a lot of landlords that we work with, and they tell us when there are available apartments,” Johnson said.
Counselors go with youth to inspect the apartment and explain to them the things they are looking for, such as testing the heat, water, lighting and electricity.
Johnson explained that once they were employed and are able to pay their own rent, the youth are taught life skills, budgeting, opening bank accounts, writing a check and shopping so that they are able to take care of themselves when Valley Youth House rental assistance ends.
“I know that last year 100 percent of youth who transitioned out of our program transitioned to a stable living space, 90 percent of them chose to remain in the program, and 10 percent moved in with family members,” Johnson said.
Johnson invited attendees to look at the Valley Youth House website if they were interested in learning more.
Contact Justice Colmon at email@example.com