Imagine that you’re in high school again. You arrive home, triumphant after a successful basketball game, only to discover that all your clothes and personal items have been put into two trash bags and set out for you. It’s time for you to leave. Where do you go? Who do you turn to? How do you start a life when you’ve essentially been thrown out onto the street with no resources whatsoever?
That was a question Kenneth Cook found himself facing years ago, when he aged out of the foster-care system. He had nowhere to go – and so, like 50 percent of youth who age out of the foster-care system, he found himself homeless.
Cook has come a long way since that day. Now, as senior director of Youth Development for the Los Angeles Youth Network (LAYN), his job is to help out other young people who have found themselves in similar circumstances to those he faced.
The number is a lot higher than you might guess. According to Covenant House, there are 2 million homeless youth in America – and 6,000-10,000 of those kids live in Los Angeles alone. “They may not be as visible, but the numbers are big, and they’re still there,” LAYN president and CEO Mark Supper told Uproxx Reports.
Founded in 1985 as a pilot program of the High Risk Youth Project at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, LAYN’s mission is to empower homeless, neglected, and abused adolescents, helping them become self-sufficient.
Which means that, yes – LAYN opens their doors to any and all young people who need a safe space to crash, but they also provide those youth with anything they could possibly need — from food to personal-care items, as well as educational enrichment and a transitional living program.
Most importantly, LAYN offers emotional support to kids who just need a person to talk to. As one former staff member said, “The biggest impact I think LAYN provides to our youth is the connection to adults and society. That’s such a basic and important necessity for their development.” At LAYN, young people find staff members who care about their problems, and with whom they can gradually begin developing relationships of trust.
As LAYN youth Madison Anderson says in the video above, “It’s such a place to thrive.”
Check out the Uproxx Reports feature on LAYN, and then be sure to check out our other coverage of how Los Angeles citizens are addressing the problem of homelessness within their city – from building tiny homes to giving kids a place to come to for weekly inspiration and camaraderie.