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Project 16:49 aims to help homeless teens

1 in 4 students live in poverty in Rock Co., hundreds are homeless

JANESVILLE, Wis. - Project 16:49 aims to help homeless teens

One in four students in Rock County live in poverty, and hundreds are homeless.

The students are the reason some community members are making strides toward helping homeless teens stay on the right track.

Project 16:49 represents the hours and minutes when the school days ends and the next begins.

For homeless teens that time can seem like an eternity, but there is new hope for teens living on the streets.

With every bolt he tightens, Aric Brewster is learning valuable skills he hopes to use in his own garage one day. After years of handing tools to his grandfather, the Beloit High School student decided to take an auto tech class, but when his grandfather died he found himself couch surfing with friends for more than two years.

"It was actually pretty hard because I didn't know where I was going to stay or where my next meal would come from. I just tried to do what I had to do and I missed a lot of school," Brewster said.

"There are a lot of children in the school districts; nearly a 1,000 every year are identified as homeless," Executive Director of Project 16:49 Tammy DeGarmo said.

DeGarmo said 160 of Rock County's homeless students are like Aric, searching for a place to stay, and without a parent or guardian.

It's why they're creating an independent living facility in Beloit. The eight-bedroom home will be a place just for teens.

"We'll be able to put seven of our kids in there, and those kids will rotate through as they're able to find other housing," DeGarmo said.

Project 16:49 has also partnered with Safe Families for Children.

The program's regional coordinator Robb Rennix said so far, they've placed five students with host families.

"We authorize them by taking them through a process very similar to foster care, but this is really what we call a pre-foster care program. They aren't licensed but they're authorized. We do background checks and training," Rennix said.

Brewster now lives with his uncle. At 20-years-old, he's proud to say he's just three credits shy of earning his high school diploma.

"Everyone always asks me, ‘Why don't you just go and get your GED?' Bcause I told my grandparents I was going to get my high school diploma. They're both not here now but I promised them and I'm going to keep that promise," Brewster said.

The independent living facility is scheduled to open in January. They are also looking for families willing to serve as host families for the Safe Families for Children partnership.

For information about Project 16:49 call 608-341-5501 or go online. For information about Safe Families for Children call 815-978-8151 or go online.

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