Hillsboro students raise money for homeless youth at Safe Place
Andrew Graves first learned about the Safe Place for Youth shelter through a friend who was staying there.
"All the employees were super-nice," Graves said. "It was always just a good, useful thing to know, and it did come in handy, because I did stay there."
Now a senior at Glencoe High School, Graves is working — alongside fellow members of the Hillsboro Youth Advisory Council — to support and give back to the nonprofit shelter.
The shelter, which is run by Southwest Portland-based Boys & Girls Aid, provides 24/7 access to essential resources and an emergency place to stay for youth ages 12 to 20.
Graves stayed at the shelter himself during a time when he didn't have stable housing.
When YAC members were deliberating about which nonprofits assisting homeless youth could benefit from a fundraiser they wanted to establish, he made a case for Safe Place.
"It was very democratic," he said, adding that Safe Place received the most votes after their discussions. "It gave me a chance to tell how a lot of people I know have used that shelter and how it has been a safe place for a lot of people."
YAC members started talking last fall about holding a fundraiser to purchase clothes, food and personal protective equipment for homeless youth, said Rania Ayoub, the group's advisor.
The students chose youth homelessness as a priority issue. In 2019-20, there were more than 2,750 students experiencing homelessness in Washington County's seven school districts, according to Oregon Department of Education data.
When he stayed at Safe Place, Graves noticed how the rooms didn't have a lot of decorations or items to make them feel inviting, he said.
Elise Ruiz-Hom, program coordinator for Safe Place, said the rooms at the shelter are important for youth experiencing housing instability because they're often the one place where youth can have privacy and security.
But with limited resources and the need to prioritize meals, hygiene supplies and other essentials, the shelter doesn't have the funding to buy extras that make the rooms more comfortable.
The money from the fundraiser will go toward making the rooms warmer with curtains, paint and other decorations.
As of April 23, nearly $1,100 of the $2,500 goal had been raised.
Another YAC student who worked on the fundraiser, Karl Buchholz, is also working on a partnership with a local art gallery to bring art into the shelter.
Buchholz, a Glencoe sophomore, said he reached out to multiple galleries to see if any would be interested in donating, and one has shown interest.
"The community has been willing to open their arms," Buchholz said. "It goes to show that Hillsboro really does care about our displaced and homeless population, which is really cool to see."
Graves said his housing situation is more stable now. He no longer needs to stay at Safe Place, and he hasn't for a couple years. But he knows firsthand just how vital the shelter, and others like it, can be for young people experiencing homelessness.
"One of the biggest struggles is just feeling like you're alone," Graves said about being housing-insecure.
But, he added: "They're not alone. There is support. If you know someone who is going through this situation, let them know you're there for them."
People can donate to the fundraiser through a GoFundMe set up by the YAC.
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