By Janelle Burrell

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The pandemic has been devastating for so many people. We’ve seen long lines at food pantries and millions who are out of work, all while trying to stay healthy.

Now, picture facing those challenges as a young adult, without a place to call home. As CBS3’s Janelle Burell found out, homelessness is a reality for more young people in our area than you might think.

Imagine trying to survive a pandemic without permanent housing.

“I’ve been in a tent, I’ve been in a shelter, I’ve been everywhere,” Halle Polson said.

Now imagine navigating the crisis — while homeless and pregnant.

“It was definitely terrifying,” Polson said. I gave birth alone. I went through my whole pregnancy alone. While I was pregnant, I was sleeping in the streets, I was couch hopping.”

Twenty-two-year-old Polson and her now 4-month-old son Darius, represent a sometimes overlooked segment of the population: young people, without a place to call home, sometimes no fault of their own.

Donell Powell bounced around in the foster system for most of his childhood, and as a young adult spent nights sleeping outside of the convention center.

For him and for his peers, who don’t have steady housing, the pandemic has meant little work and few job opportunities — making many of their situations dire.

“I’ve been getting Social Security. I have not been getting paid at all,” Powell said.

According to data from the City of Philadelphia, about 12% of people who are homeless in Philadelphia are youth – 24 years old and younger. That’s a number that has increased since the start of the pandemic.

“I would say that we have seen probably a 30% increase with people coming maybe more consistently than they would have,” Executive Director of Youth Service, Inc. Gwendolyn Bailey said.

Gwendolyn Bailey is the Executive Director of Youth Service, Inc. — a Philadelphia non-profit that provides shelter and support to children and young adults.

“We do our best to make sure that we have supplies on hand,” Bailey said. “We have not seen anything like it. It has been challenging for employees and for the people we work with because there’s been so much uncertainty.”

Youth Service, Inc. helped Polson get her own apartment, but many of her friends haven’t been as fortunate.

It took her three years to get to this point. Now, she’s able to look for work, hoping for a better future.

“For my son, and for Philadelphia. Not just me, just not you. It takes everybody together. We all have a light in us, we all play our part,” Polson said.

She says one of the biggest challenges of being homeless is that it is extremely hard to get a job if you don’t have a place to go home to at night.

Now that she has an apartment, she’s eager to start working.

There are so many more like Polson.

November is National Homeless Youth Awareness month – and advocates say now, more than ever, donations are so very critical to helping these young people survive.


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Janelle Burrell