Standing up for the forgotten homeless

"Norm isn’t looking for any sympathy or congratulations for himself, but he is looking for some of those little bars of soap that hotels give out. “We also like to have those little tubes of toothpaste and razors,” Norm said. “We like all the stuff you can steal from hotels.”Not many people seek out these otherwise disposable hygiene items, but they are worth a lot to the kids Norm finds sleeping on the streets of Kitsap County.Norm (StandUp for Kids volunteers decline to reveal their surnames) is a volunteer for StandUp for Kids, an outreach program based out of Denver that tries to reach kids on the streets before someone else does. Standup for Kids volunteers distribute the basics of life — clothes, hygiene items and the like — to kids who live on the street.According to statistics provided by StandUp For Kids, there are about 2 million kids on American streets. Approximately half of them are under the age of 15. You might not see a lot of homeless kids in Kitsap County, but Norm said they are there. According to Norm, Silverdale and Bremerton are home to a surprisingly high number of Kitsap youths.“Those that I have talked to generally come from an abusive home situation,” Norm said. “A lot of them are getting the beejeebers kicked out of them.”When the kids run out of options or are just fed up with home, they take to the streets — which, Norm said, usually puts them in danger. Norm said kids on the street are prone to become victims of pedophiles, violence and prostitution.Often, the street kids have given up on their lives.“We try to reach a lot of the kids before they get to the streets,” Norm said. “We try to tell them to think twice about living on the streets.” Jo, another volunteer for StandUp for Kids, said the problem was a surprise when she started volunteering a little more than three years ago.“I was blown away by the whole thing,” Jo said. “I had not realized that we had a problem like that here in Silverdale.”Volunteers don’t ask kids for identification; nor do they delve deeply into the kids’ pasts, unless they are asked to. They simply find kids and try to help out however possible. They distribute clothes, hygiene products and whatever information they think can help kids on the streets.National studies show that an average of 13 street kids die every day, and that number is not going down. It amazes Norm that a society so concerned about violence in schools can turn a blind eye to homeless kids.“That (13 dead) is a Columbine massacre every day,” Norm said. “Who is standing up for these kids?”On the long-term StandUp for Kids wish list is a drop-off center, at which area street kids could wash clothes and take showers. Norm and Jo also are constantly looking for and accepting resources to hand out to the kids on the street.“You don’t want a program like ours to grow, because that means there are more kids out of the streets,” Jo said. “But we would like to be able to serve more kids.”Norm said the low-key program will continue regardless of whether they are recognized or a drop-off center is built. Since nobody in StandUp for Kids is a professional social worker, Norm said participation in the program in not based on donations and endowments, but on being a good neighbor.“We’re not professionals,” Norm said. “We’re just people from the neighborhood.” "

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