16:49 refers to the amount of hours and minutes between the end of the school day and when the school day starts again the next morning.
In 2010, director R.E. Burgos created Sixteen Forty-Nine, a moving documentary film about the more than 1,000 homeless teens living in Rock County. The film was shown at the Beloit International Film Festival and later won the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth media award.
Tammy DeGarmo was working for United Way of North Rock County at the time, when a colleague brought her a copy of the documentary. “Like many people, I wasn’t blind to the fact this is happening, but I had no idea that so many children were being impacted,” says DeGarmo. “It’s a very important segment of the homeless population. These are young people who have promise but may not have the opportunities other kids do. If given those same opportunities, they can be just as successful. The film was a wonderful tool to open a discussion about their situation.”
Based on those many conversations, Project 16:49, a non-profit designed to help homeless or unaccompanied youth in Rock County, opened its doors in 2014. The number 16:49 refers to the amount of hours and minutes between the end of the school day and when the school day starts again the next morning. The program aims to help homeless teens during that time.
The target population is unaccompanied homeless youth, ages 12–20, who are enrolled (or eligible and willing to be enrolled) in a Rock County school district or a GED program.
“It doesn’t always mean living on the street,” says DeGarmo. “They could be living in a shelter, or sleeping on a friend’s couch. Some of these kids don’t always know from day-to-day where they’re going to sleep that night.”
There are a variety of reasons these young adults are homeless or unaccompanied, including family conflict, abuse or neglect, domestic violence, parental incarceration or criminal behaviors, and/or parents with untreated addictions or mental health problems. Many of the unaccompanied homeless children come from a background of poverty.
“Most don’t publicize their situation,” DeGarmo says. “The first sign, for example, might be that they don’t have someone to sign a permission slip. A homeless student might sit next to your child in class and they don’t realize it.”
The goal is to help the students advocate for themselves.
A case manager is assigned to each student to access his or her situation and goals. Students are given assistance to obtain basic needs such as shelter, food, clothing, health care, and transportation. “We teach them about budgeting, cooking, and take charge of their healthcare, says DeGarmo. “We help them obtain a food card, health care card and identification. A lot of these kids don’t have a birth certificate or Social Security card, so we help them get that set up, as well as their driver’s license.”
The organization also offers transitional living to young women at the Robin House, which is named after Robin Stuht, School District of Beloit Homeless Liaison, who helped produce the documentary and found the organization. Robin House is located in Beloit and can house seven young women at a time for up to 18 months.
“Our goal is to make them self-reliant”
Most of the students involved with Project 16:49 are referred by the school district or by other unaccompanied homeless students. “Our goal is to make them self-reliant,” says DeGarmo. “All kids need caring adults in their lives; these young adults don’t have natural role models. They just need an extra boost in order to graduate and move on with the rest of their lives.”
Project 16:49 is totally funded by local support from schools, youth groups, service clubs, businesses, and individuals. Donations include everything from furniture to toiletries. “People have been very willing to help and stand behind these kids,” DeGarmo says. “We have a generous community.”
For more information, call 608-314-5501 or visit www.Project1649.orgBack To The Beloit Experience