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Even in Wealthy Fairfax, Youth Shelter ‘Second Story’ Struggles to House Homeless Teens

(Updated 3:15 p.m.) Fairfax is the second richest county in the nation — yet at Second Story, just south of Tysons at 2100 Gallows Rd, there’s a desperate need for bed space for homeless teens.

Second Story CEO Judith Dittman says the organization provides a temporary shelter for teenagers in a crisis, but there is a waitlist of 35 people still waiting for a space to open up.

The waitlist averages 50 people for the homeless youth and young mothers programs. Dittman said those on waitlists are forced to either stay on couches or in the street, where they could become caught up in human trafficking.

“Too many times, people look at me and say ‘that doesn’t happen in Fairfax,'” Dittman said.

But, in 2017, Fairfax County Public Schools reported that 1,200 young people in the county had no support from a parent or legal guardian. A report by Fairfax County’s Department of Health and Human Services found that 18,857 children, or 7 percent of all local children, were in poverty.

The shelter takes in young people who have run away from home, or have no home to go back to, and offers a three-week refuge. The program functions as a shelter for people between ages 13-17, offering counseling, meals, and guidance.

Lauren Witherspoon, the development coordinator for Second Story, said the goal is family reunification and about 95 percent of the teens are reunited with their family at the end of the program. After they return to their family, there are periodic check-ins to see how the child is handling the situation.

From its founding in 1972 through just two years ago, Second Story was known as “Alternative House.” Dittman said that as the organization started branching out, leaders found the original name was no longer reflective of the scope of the work done there.

“Your first story is the one written for you in your early years,” said Dittman, “but in your teen years, you start to write your own story. As a teen you make mistakes. Most young people have a support network to help them through, but many don’t.”

In addition to the youth shelter, the organization also offers after-school activities, programs for young mothers and other programs aimed at preventing homelessness and crises in the first place.

Witherspoon said the organization targets children as early as fourth grade. That may sound young, but Witherspoon said they are competing with gangs that typically recruit at around eight or nine years old or human traffickers, who can grab children as young as 11 or 12.

Another program takes homeless teens and focuses on making them self-sufficient over an 18-month period. Counselors at the program help teach participants skills from how to load a dishwasher to how to manage finances.

The charity was recently the subject of fundraising and toy donation drives at the Tysons Biergarten and the Tysons Partnership. Roughly one-third of the organization’s funding, or $1,209,510, comes from community support. Another third comes from federal, state and local grants, but Witherspoon said the organization has been struggling as costs continue to rise, but federal funding remains stagnant.

“We haven’t had an increase in federal funding for 15 years,” said Witherspoon. “We don’t have any billboards or ads, so we rely on word of mouth.”

Over 85 percent of the organization’s funding, or $2,832,169, goes to program services. The remaining funding is split between development, management, and general funds.

The organization hosts tours on the second Tuesday of each month. Second Story also hosts volunteer and community service opportunities. Volunteers help do things like cook and answer the door to allow counselors to focus on helping teens.

Photo via Facebook

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