Prince George’s County christened its first youth homeless shelter in more than a decade Thursday as part of a broader plan to step up services for troubled teens.
Young people in the county who run away from home sometimes resort to shelters in the District, which increasingly have had to turn them away due to a lack of beds. In Prince George’s, teens in need of shelter are also likely to “couch surf,” or stay with friends until they wear out their welcome.
County officials say the new shelter, called Promise Place, will house up to 20 residents beginning Tuesday and help homeless teens better connect with county services. Those services, which officials said would be increased over time, will include transitional housing and help reuniting with parents. The goal is to help homeless youths age 12 to 21 before they endanger themselves or get into trouble.
“I kept hearing [that] other jurisdictions were taking care of our kids. We needed to do something to offer services for them,’’ said Gloria Brown, the county’s social services director, said after Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Ideally, most youths will stay in the shelter, a renovated school located in southern Prince George’s, for a maximum of three weeks while they work with case managers, said Deborah Shore, executive director of Sasha Bruce Youthwork. The nonprofit homeless youth advocacy organization has partnered with the county to run the facility, whose renovation cost the county $300,000.
Sasha Bruce outreach director Daniel Davis said that on his forays into the District, he is noticing a steady increase in the number of homeless youths joining gangs or getting involved in sex trafficking. Many of the them identify as transgender, he said.
Officials said they worked to ensure that Promise Place would be comfortable so that youths will stay long enough to figure out their next step. Its two dorm rooms have reading lamps and new furniture such as beanbag chairs. The bathroom for female residents smells like lavender.
“We want to open their mind and their perspective about life,’’ Brown said.
Due to the mobility of homeless youths, county officials believe they have been undercounted in the annual survey of homelessness spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In 2011, the survey counted 185 homeless youths in Prince George’s; in 2012, they counted 149. According to staff members at Sasha Bruce, those numbers also can be misleading because the count is taken over the course of one winter day.
Promise Place is just the first step in developing youth services for the homeless over the next decade, Brown said. In addition, she said the county hopes to strengthen its case work to develop a more accurate picture of suburban homelessness and to increase the number of transitional housing options for older teenagers when they leave the shelter.
“This is our chance to reengage the youth and right their paths,” Brown said.