Butte County Youth Advisory holds candlelit vigil to remember homeless youth

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Butte County Youth Advisory holds candlelit vigil to remember homeless youth

People congregate together and had a candlelit vigil. Photo credit: Hana Beaty

People congregate together and had a candlelit vigil. Photo credit: Hana Beaty

People congregate together and had a candlelit vigil. Photo credit: Hana Beaty

People congregate together and had a candlelit vigil. Photo credit: Hana Beaty

Kimberly Morales

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On Tuesday night a candlelight vigil was held at the steps of ‪the Chico City Council Chambers honoring and remembering homeless youth‬.

Hosted by the Butte County Youth Advisory Council, the vigil was intended to teach the community about the 1 million estimated youth nationwide during November’s Runaway and Homeless youth month. ‬

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The candlelit vigil was held outside of Chico City Hall Municipal Building Photo credit: Hana Beaty

The state of California has an estimated 200,000 children who are homeless, including some 2,000 K-12 students in Butte County and approximately 25% of youth exiting foster care will experience homelessness. Of those youth, a high percentage have been physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused by their guardians and are frequently re-victimized while living on the streets and in shelters. National disaster and lack of affordable housing have intensified youth homelessness across California. This lack of housing hinders a youth’s likelihood of succeeding in school, and thus exiting homelessness, according to a proclamation on behalf of the entire Chico City Council at the vigil.

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Friends and family got together and expience this event together. Photo credit: Hana Beaty

The host of the event, Josh Indar, Tutor Coordinator of the Butte County Office of Education opened the conversation explaining his experiences providing services and education to homeless and foster youth. As someone who had faced homelessness as a teenager, he felt that education was vital for youth in order to break out from the homeless cycle being knowledgeable and employable. Now as a mentor for youth, Indar expressed his enjoyment of building these opportunities into institutions so youth can feel comfortable asking for help.

“I’ve seen a lot of success stories and the amazing resilience that the youth in this county has, but I’ve seen the opposite too,” Indar said. “What we’re trying to do this month is to spread that awareness that there are kids on our streets, young people who don’t have anywhere to sleep tonight and that’s something we need to think and talk about as much as we can.”

Acknowledging a nationwide tense atmosphere around the issue of homelessness, Indar made the distinction to express the critical need for the community to come together to fight the homeless emergency for youth.

“It doesn’t matter what you think about the homeless issue or “this part” of the homeless population—we have to take care of our kids, that’s got to be who we are as a community. This is a community problem and it’s a problem that we can solve—it’s not going to be easy but all of these youth out here need our help and it’s up to each and every one of us to try to find a way to do that.”

Oscar Rodriguez, a former homeless youth, gave his testimony to peers explaining how the people in his life fostered his motivation to break away from homelessness.

“My own life has struggles that may have seemed uncomfortable…the only people I could rely on were my teachers and friends and they were the only ones that could really help me calm down when these problems were in my life,” Rodriguez said. “They inspired me through these moments and they gave me some passion and hope to keep growing.”

“The biggest thing is needing a community of people to fight with you and give you the resources to keep going,” Rodriguez added.

Having graduated last year with his bachelors degree in geography and city planning, Rodriguez now works full-time in the Butte County Office of Education. He mentors kids to help others and share his experience, in the hope of helping children “go further” and helping vulnerable youth become part of society, having their dreams supported.

As someone who has witnessed and responded to homeless youth through his line of duty, Chief Mike O’Brien from Chico Police Department explained how his job has highlighted the dangers homeless youth are vulnerable to in Chico.

“Thirty-one years of this business, you see some pretty tough things and I understand why kids run away from some of those circumstances,” O’Brien said. “Do I wish that they would be supported and loved? Absolutely, but we know that’s not always the reality. If you’re a young person on the streets, bad things happen and no one deserves to be victimized. We collectively–both law enforcement, community, and government need to come together to find ways to support these individuals that are not given the support that they richly deserve.”

To end the event, Mayor Randall Stone spoke before the beginning of the Chico City Council meeting to commemorate the efforts of the community.

“Every year we do this as a reminder and reflection about what this community needs to protect those who are most vulnerable,” Stone said, adding that effects of homelessness have great impact on the individual and “become more and more costly to address as the youth become older and as foster kids age out of the system.

“If that becomes more expensive and more difficult to treat and respond to, that’s a waste for our community,” he said. “We’ve been committed to break that system and maintain our runways and foster youth into services so we can cut the cycle of abuse and have a stable and consistent community.”

Mayor Stone read through a proclamation from the last council meeting.

“Now therefore be it resolved that I, Randall Stone, Mayor of the city of Chico, on behalf of the entire city council join advocates and communities across the country in taking action to prevent homeless youth and runaways and to hereby proclaim November 2019 Homeless and Runaway Month, and do commend the observance of all of our citizens. “

Kimberly Morales can be reached at [email protected] or @kimberlymnews on Twitter.