by: Tony Thomas Updated:
ATLANTA - A local homeless shelter for children said this time of year is critical to get kids off the streets and in a safe place.
Channel 2's Tony Thomas went along as members of the Young People Matter homeless shelter walked Atlanta streets Thursday night, trying to find homeless children and convince them to seek shelter.
Executive Director Simone Joye said even on cold nights like this week, child homelessness is a problem many of us witness, but don't realize it.
"Typically they're not shabbily dressed. They are not going to look like what America perceives to be homeless," Joye said.
"So what are you looking for?" Thomas asked.
"We are looking for just any young person that looks lost," Joye responded.
Some estimates peg the number of Atlanta area homeless or runaway children at 2,500.
Young People Matter is a funded by a three-year federal grant and operates several programs including a DeKalb County emergency shelter that can house up to six children at a time. They can stay for up to 21 days in a row.
The shelter is one of only nine in the state where children who've either run away or been kicked out of the house by their parents can come any time without a state referral.
"If not here, where would you be?" Thomas asked 14-year -old Temia, who is staying in the shelter for the second time.
"I don't know, I'm not even sure," she answered.
Darell, 13, said the shelter provides safety he can't find on the streets or other places.
"Just scared someone might come and snatch you, being on the street, " he said.
The shelter has had to turn away more than 100 kids in the last six months. It's seeking money for more expansion in Atlanta and in other counties.
But with nights where the temperature is dropping, the push is to spread hope and maybe provide shelter to a child in need.
"We don't want you all out here, you are too young," Joye told two children she found sitting along a curb on Peachtree Street.
Joye said this time of year especially, more and more children obtain fake ID's and get themselves into adult shelters.