This statistic might surprise you: 1 out of every 3 homeless people are under the age of 18. This year, 1.6 to 1.7 million youths (under 18 years of age) will experience homelessness.
I know, a little heavy for Monday morning! Facts like these are the very reasons why The Salvation Army strives each day to battle cyclical youth homelessness.
More than 28 million kids have parents who work outside the home, and (Source: US Dept. of Labor) as many as 15 million kids have no place to go after school (Source: U.S. Census)
The hours between 3 and 6pm, when children generally get out of school and their parents get off of work, is when juvenile crime is most likely to occur. Law enforcement considers these hours a “danger zone.”
In the economically depressed Eastside community of St. Paul, Minnesota, The Salvation Army’s Eastside After-School program offers children a safe place to learn and play away from negative influence like drugs and gangs, while parents have peace of mind knowing their children are not on the streets when they’re still at work.
As a part of program’s homework help and tutoring sessions, local police officers serve as volunteers, helping provide positive influences and building relationships within the community.
Officer Robert Merrill has been a part of the program since 2008, spending a few hours every week helping young kids with their math, reading and writing assignments or whatever subject matter needs attention.
“The kids get to see police officers in an environment where they’re not dealing with a confrontational situation,” he said. “They see the more humane side of us. A lot of times their impression of law enforcement comes from them seeing us hauling people to jail and putting them into handcuffs. When kids and families see us [volunteering in their community], people might have a more positive view of our profession.”
For the officers, the learning process is reciprocal. Officer Merrill shared, “For me it’s allowed more insight into these kids’ lives than I’d normally have. They’re great kids, but they have a lot of struggles. We get to spend one-on-one time with them and they’ll tell you what’s going on in their lives outside of school. If we can offer them advice, steer them in the right direction, or help that stewarding of the theme of being able to helps and assist people, that the biggest reward I get out of it.”
The relationships and insight Officer Merrill’s gained has also translated outside of the classroom. Many officers unfortunately have had to deal with the same kids not only as students but also as crime victims. But, thanks to the foundation of trust that has begun to develop as a result of their interactions in the classroom, the children feel safer, more comfortable, and are more likely to cooperate with Merrill and other officers during times of crisis.
Regarding The Salvation Army’s Eastside After-School Program, Officer Merrill summed up, “There are not many programs like this around and certainly not in the neighborhoods of this city. It’s a program that will show [the kids] their education is important and that will hopefully lead to them being a proud member of society and keep them away from negative influences like gangs and crime. It’s a great program, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
The Salvation Army thanks Officer Merrill and our other law enforcement volunteers for their invaluable investment of time into the youth of St. Paul and our Salvation Army programs.
How do after-school programs play a role in the life of you and your children? Visit www.salvationarmyusa.org to visit our poll question on this topic. Hurry, today is the last day to answer before a new question is featured tomorrow!