Campaign challenges public to 'take a closer look' at homeless youth

KING 5's Eric Wilkinson reports.

EVERETT, Wash. -- They are the invisibles, society's throwaways, the children that so many of us choose to ignore.

Now, a group of homeless advocates is challenging people to take a closer look at street kids.

Everett's Cocoon House is placing about a dozen life-like mannequins across the city. The figures stand on street corners or sit along sidewalks or benches. Each is dressed in jeans, sneakers and a bright hoodie that describes the fate of a homeless teen.

"My dad kicked me out because I'm gay," reads one.

"I'm missing and my parents don't care," states another.

"You see them and you think it's a real person and then you're like, whoa...what is that?" said bystander Cindy Gobel.

"It does really break your heart," added Charlie Lewis, taking a moment to look over the display outside the Snohomish County Courthouse on Friday.

There are some 2,500 homeless youth in Snohomish County alone.

Tanya Burgess knows their stories all too well. She was one of them, escaping an abusive home when she was just 14 years old.

"I was digging garbage out of the back of restaurants to get food," she said. "I would walk all night and not sleep because I was afraid someone would rape me. It was horrible."

Burgess was on the streets of Everett for three years before finding help at Cocoon House, where she is now a board member.

The group hopes the "Take A Closer Look At Youth Homelessness" campaign will turns heads and open eyes to a problem many would prefer to pretend doesn't exist.

"When you're in these tough situations at such a young age, you feel like nobody cares about you," said Burgess. "If we get more people to acknowledge the problem, maybe they'll be more willing to get help."

Cocoon House is exposing the misconception about homeless teens that they are on the streets because they just wouldn't listen to well-meaning parents.

The reality is many are kicked out because they're homosexual, others suffered physical abuse and considered the streets a safer place than home.

Advocates say 75% of homeless youth are never even reported missing by their parents.

"That's crazy," said onlooker Heather Sorgen. "They're kids. They need our help!"

But even as some stopped to look at the exhibit outside the busy courthouse, many more passed by without a glance -- the plight of homeless children invisible to those who choose not to look.

"These children are somebody. They belong to our community," said Cocoon House CEO Cassie Franklin. "They could be anybody's kid."


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