Homeless Teens Living Among Us
Thousands of teens roam the streets of Milwaukee County every year. Video by tmj4.comvideo
MILWAUKEE - There are as many as 15,000 runaway or homeless youth roaming Milwaukee County every year.
They walk the streets, living underneath bridges, or worse. And for those trying to fix the problem, it can be overwhelming.
"You see a lot of things that break your heart," said Adrienne Strelcheck, a social worker. "So many kids are homeless."
On any given night, 400 kids in Milwaukee, ages 11 to 17, are looking for a place to sleep. Almost half never find one.
"It's a very hopeless situation," said Strelcheck who works at Pathfinders.
Pathfinders is an emergency homeless shelter and walk-in center specifically for teens.
"You expect that average presentation of someone pushing a cart down the street, but it's not. A lot of our teens who are homeless have better cell phones than me, they have better clothes than me, but they still don't have a place to sleep," she said.
Strelcheck recently showed us the spots teens sleep at night; some are not exactly the inner city.
For example, walk along the Locust Street Bridge near Humboldt Boulevard, and teen homelessness can literally be right underneath your nose.
"I did a few nights down here," said Strelcheck who was homeless several years ago. "It's scary, it's really scary."
She knows first hand that teens, even entire families, sleep underneath the Locust Street Bridge and others like it every night.
And that wasn't even the most shocking revelation.
Just a few strides away, she walked us into another world.
"I don't want to invade your privacy. Anyone in there?!" she yelled at what appeared to be a pile of brush.
The closer we walked to it, the more you realized it wasn't brush, it was a hut doubling as someones home.
It was made out of tree branches and leaves and just minutes from downtown Milwaukee.
"Milwaukee has a third world country right in it's center core," she said.
She took us through that center core, where we found abandoned home after abandoned home, now used as shelters.
We drove by one garage that was boarded up, except for one small crack in the wood structure.
"There are about seven youths living in this right now," she said.
22-year old Amber Zimdars knows what that feels like to be homeless, because she's been homeless off and on since the age of 14.
She says her father is non-existent, her mother is barely a mother.
She remembers her lowest point was using a bus stop as shelter a few years back.
"I was literally crying," Zimdars said. "I had no where to go that day."
"And I just sit there and act as though, I'm going to catch the next bus"
Fast forward a few years, where she's going to school and living in a transitional home, preparing to have her own home.
She's found this new path in part because of Pathfinders, she says.
"Pathfinders is like that home. We are like our own little family," said Zimdars.
It's a family that knows there's still a lot to be done.
With only two teen shelters in the Milwaukee metro area, Pathfinders officials believe kids need a one stop shop where they can have a place to sleep and get help.
"Job training, help with parenting, to have it all in one spot," said Strelcheck.
Until that day, she and other foot soldiers appreciate the battles they win, hoping one day to win the war.
"This isn't something that is quickly solved," she said.
For more information about Pathfinders and how you can help, here's a link to http://pathfindersmke.org/.