ITHACA, N.Y. — Hundreds of children are estimated to be homeless in Tompkins County. Since it is Runaway and Homeless Youth Awareness Month, the county is shining some light on this local issue and on the organizations that work with homeless youth.

A proclamation made Tuesday at Tompkins County Legislature highlighted the work of two organizations in Tompkins County that help homeless youth daily —  Family & Children’s Service and the Learning Web.

Many youth in Tompkins County end up homeless every year because they feel unsafe at home.

Amie Hendrix, director of Tompkins County Youth Services, said many people don’t realize there are homeless youth in the community.

“They often are hidden behind the scenes,” Hendrix said. “We don’t also always realize what that means, what it means for a young person to be homeless.”

Youth homelessness can sometimes go unrecognized because their “couch surfing” in shared living spaces can disguise their actual homelessness. Hendrix said people also sometimes think that youth who run away do so just because they are not getting along with their parents. However, she said the people who work with homeless youth locally have a clearer picture of what it means.

“It often means there’s a lot of turmoil in the family,” Hendrix said.

Runaway and homeless youth face a high risk of commercial sexual exploitation and other serious risk to their safety, the proclamation notes.

Since 2015, two local organizations have been working together to provide services and help youth stay safe.

Family & Children’s Service has a program called Open Doors that helps youth up to age 21 who have run away or are at-risk of running away. The program offers immediate food and other basic needs like shelter to youth who cannot go home. They offer mentoring, mediation with family with the aim to reunify family, advocacy at school and life skills development.

The Learning Web helps more than 600 youth, about 200 of which are homeless, each year in Tompkins County. Their Youth Outreach program helps youth transition to adulthood by providing experiential learning, case management, life skills training and supported housing program.

Another project in the works that will help homeless youth and people who are vulnerable is the Amici House, which will be constructed at 661-701 Spencer Road in Ithaca behind Tompkins Community Action. The five-story building will create 23 studio units for youth in the 18 to 25 age range. It will also have classrooms and an outdoor play area.

Related: Lifton announces $3.7 million in funds for TCAction’s Amici House

The proclamation called on local residents to support young people who are homeless, have run away or are at high risk of running away and to support agencies in the community that help these youth.

For more information about Open Doors, call 607-273-7494.

For youth in crisis, call or text 607-288-2348.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.