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Number of homeless youth surges in four Midwestern states including Kansas and Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Growing numbers of teens and young adults without homes are an increasing challenge in urban areas.

The federal government says in four Midwestern states, including Missouri and Kansas, people ages 24 and younger living on the streets jumped 55 percent last year.

One homeless shelter in Kansas City says it's turning away an average of 27 young people every month this year because it just doesn't have enough beds.

"We try to keep them on the line when they are on the hotline," said Evie Craig, director of Restart Inc., an agency that serves the homeless. "Just don’t give up. Let's find another option for you. I think what we are trying to do as a community is develop a strong and seamless network of emergency response so that no 12 or 18 years old in our community is on the streets."

Experts say young people don't like being labeled as homeless, and often are in and out of the streets, couch surfing, which can often put them in danger of being exploited in exchange for getting a roof over their heads.

In the metro area, social workers are focused on coordinating their efforts to support teens and young adults find stability to live independently.

"One of the things we’ve learned about young people, and other people as well, is that we make mistakes," said Rachel Francis, director of youth services for Synergy Services. "We have to figure out how we keep these young people in services and in housing and allowing them to learn from mistakes they make."

Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools have identified 1,400 homeless children in their district alone.

In response, Avenue of Life is partnering with 27 organizations to help families overcome housing barriers by obtaining birth certificates, food stamps and jobs.

The Impact Wednesday program helped put 116 families into homes last year, and found living wage jobs for 87 people.

By sharing success stories from across the Midwest, social workers hope to refine strategies that can make eliminating homelessness achievable because unlike other age groups, experts say most young people do not choose to be homeless.