Austin beats 100-day challenge goal to get homeless youth off streets

Up until last month, 22-year-old Gage Kemp lived on the streets. He's one of 53 youth now in housing after the 100-Day Challenge
Up until last month, 22-year-old Gage Kemp lived on the streets. He's one of 53 youth now in housing after the 100-Day Challenge

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On any given night in the Austin area, there are well over 100 homeless youth with nowhere safe to sleep. It’s a problem communities across America have been trying to find solutions to for years.

“We need additional resources for housing and to support youth and their journeys off the street,” said LifeWorks Executive Director Susan McDowell. “To provide case management, mental health, workforce support.”

Back in September, Austin was chosen by A Way Home America to participate in the 100-Day Challenge. Cleveland and Los Angeles were also selected.

“It said pick a goal. Pick one goal you don’t think you can achieve, and take 100 days to do whatever is necessary to achieve it,” said McDowell.

Nonprofits like LifeWorks, ECHO and Caritas decided they would work to get 50 homeless youth of the streets. They were not given any additional resources, just the support of the community.

While it was an aggressive goal, they surpassed it, housing 53 young people. And the help doesn’t stop once they are housed. The youths are also provided with a case manager and a support system.

Gage Kemp is one of the young people who now has a roof over his head. He says he was raised in an abusive, neglectful and drug-fueled family. When he was 17 he left home and never looked back, walking to California from Reno. Throughout his life, music has helped him cope with the emotional abuse.

“I started playing guitar a lot and it was a really good healthy coping mechanism for me. It was a way for me to kind of remove myself from the situation,” said Kemp.

For the next five years, Kemp lived on the streets. People who walked by him assumed they knew his story, judging him for being homeless.

“That’s the biggest thing that keeps kids on that street, this feeling that, this is where I belong. It’s this feeling, I don’t need to do anything better, I can’t do anything better, even if I try I’m going to fail. I don’t have anyone to support me.”

Yet Kemp didn’t surrender to the streets, eager to find the support needed to make a change. Now he’s living in his own apartment for the very first time.

“I have time to engage in all the things that give my life meaning, make me feel like I’m doing good things and spreading good messages,” he said, smiling. “I have time to really work on my music and hone myself because I’m not carrying a 100-pound backpack trying to figure out how to eat.”

He shares his new music on his Facebook page, and is now working with the nonprofits to give back to the people who helped him.

“I think the youth are taking a deep breath and saying, ‘This is it, I’m home. I’ve got my own key for the first time’,” said McDowell.

The word will not end here, however. The next goal is ending youth homeless completely by 2020. With momentum from the 100-Day Challenge, McDowell is confident the city can make it happen.