Wake program reaches about 350 homeless children in its first year

kpoe@newsobserver.comSeptember 25, 2012 

— An effort aimed at meeting the needs of homeless children in Wake County says it has served about 350 children in its first year.

Project CATCH, which stands for Community Action Targeting Children who are Homeless, is made up of several groups that work together to identify what children need, as well as supporting their parents, said Katie Gonzalez, a case manager at the Salvation Army Women and Children’s Emergency Shelter.

“The needs of children are so different than even the needs of what a homeless adult would have,” said Salvation Army spokeswoman Haven Sink. “CATCH gives them better access to the help they need to overcome some of the these situations.”

The project is a collaboration between the Salvation Army of Wake County, the Young Child Mental Health Collaborative and Wake County SmartStart, and is funded by a grant from the John Rex Endowment. Eleven shelters are also involved.

About a quarter of homeless people in Wake County are children and teens, according to a count done in 2008. Approximately 330 parents and children stay in shelters in the county each night, CATCH Coordinator Pete Donlon said.

The project followed a two-year study by the Young Child Mental Health Collaborative on how to most effectively use existing shelters to address children’s needs.

“They started to see that children’s needs weren’t really being uniformly addressed,” Donlon said.

Workers perform developmental screenings on nearly all children who enter any of the 11 shelters, gauging their need for medical, educational and mental health services. If they determine a child needs help, they refer that child to the appropriate specialist and follow up with them and sometimes transport them to their appointments, Gonzalez said.

Since homelessness is such a transient lifestyle, parents and children frequently move from shelter to shelter, and it’s easy for shelters to lose track of them, Gonzalez said. But the CATCH program allows the shelters to work together and keep up with families.

“We’ve seen more children getting into services. We’ve seen more children progress and get to more medical appointments and developmental screenings so they get into services faster,” Gonzalez said. “Medical care is a big one – a lot of the population is very transient, so they might have had a different doctor a year ago, and they’re now in a different location, so they might need to switch doctors and not know how to do that.”

Poe: 919-829-4563

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