Over the years, Forget me Knot has become a lifeline for local youth.
The Philadelphia-based organization provides refuge for young adults experiencing homelessness through various programming and outreach services. Forget Me Knot offers housing, meals, health services, educational programming and various forums to empower and support young people in need.
Today, their mission is more important than ever.
“Services like these highlight issues of teenage homelessness and help those who age out of foster care. A lot of attention is going to other homelessness, but youth homelessness is not mentioned,” said Quinzelle Bethea, CEO of Forget Me Knot, who co-founded the organization alongside Mecca Robinson in 2015. “Advocating for homeless youth hasn’t been prioritized.”
According to the National Center for Homeless Education, there were 23,164 homeless youth enrolled in public school in the state of Pennsylvania during the 2015-16 school year. That number rose to include 30,624 students just two years later—an increase of more than 30 percent. The U.S. Department of Housing and Development reported that as of January 2019, on any given day, Pennsylvania has an estimated 13,199 people experiencing homelessness, of those, 737 were unaccompanied young adults ages 18-24.
“One of our major contacts is young people in the foster care system. When these young people age out, where do they go? A lot of places they go are places that are not meant for a young person—there’s a big difference when an 18-year-old male or female goes to a place meant for 40-year-old veterans who might suffer from substance abuse,” said Bethea.
“Once they age out (of foster care), they’re on the street now,” he continued. “If they go into a shelter, they’re there with someone with 30 to 40 years of homelessness. That’s a very intimidating environment for a young person to go into.”
Forget Me Knot is working to remedy that hardship.
The organization is open to young adults ages 13 to 21. They currently provide emergency housing at their dormitory on North Broad Street and also recently expanded to a second location on Germantown Avenue to provide additional shelter.
All tenants are housed in single bedrooms, which allows them to practice social distancing and protect themselves against the spread of coronavirus. Bethea also explained that everyone is provided with masks and are required to wear them at all times.
In its overall network, Forget Me Knot works with a little under 400 young people annually; approximately 200 people receive housing. Thanks to a partnership with Philadelphia Health Management Corporation, those involved in the programs also have access to health screenings. Currently, the organization’s drop-in center is not fully operational, but has modified its outreach services—local youth in crisis can still call and receive a hot meal, toiletries and first aid supplies.
However, their mission spans far beyond life sustaining services.
“One of the things I realized is for an organization to be successful, the multiple parts—whether it’s healthcare or education—those systems have to exist in that place simultaneously,” explained Bethea. “I wanted to put those resources around that person right where they’re at. And over time it has its growths. We’re getting to a place now that we’re growing and involving youth voices more and more.”
Helping combat youth homelessness incorporates far more than just housing, explained Bethea, who has worked to ensure local young adults are being supported in both mind and body. Through services like their Social Enterprise and Entrepreneur Development program, teens can learn about business development and financial literacy. They can also focus on mental health and embrace their creativity through various arts and music programs.
“Everything comes out of our Youth Speaks platform where young people daily can talk about things going on and advocate for their community. We wanted to be an organization that’s not just youth centered, but community centered,” said Bethea.
“When a young person wants to march against brutality or advocate against any system, it’s not my job to say that’s right or wrong, but to get behind that child,” he added. “If a young person is advocating, I’m going to march with that person. I’m going to support that person.”
For more information on Forget Me Knot services, visit forgetmeknotys.org. If you are between the ages of 13-21 and are experiencing homelessness, call their hotline at 215-758-1132.
Metro is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly.