Valley Youth House hosts couchesdontcount campaign
A vacant couch sat in front of the Barnes and Noble on the corner of 18th and Walnut streets, directly across from Rittenhouse Square and its farmer’s market. Decorated with multicolored pillows and messages written on cardboard: Mostly statistical information and the hashtags #CouchesDontCount and #ValleyYouthHouse.
Members of the Valley Youth House talked among themselves Tuesday, smiling and wishing those who passed them by and only glimpsed at their messages for a few short minutes.
“Here we have a couch and we decided to bring a couch to the street because a lot of homeless youth are couch surfing,” Valerie Johnson, assistant director of development at Valley Youth House said. “They’re staying with friends, they’re staying with acquaintances and they’re living in abandoned buildings.”
CouchesDontCount is an advocacy campaign launched in October 2015 to raise awareness of young people experiencing homelessness who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer).
Part of a week-long set of “pop-up” events around the city, Johnson said that though it’s not a “in-your-face” problem, Valley Youth House decided to bring a couch to a street, where you would normally expect to see someone who is experiencing homelessness, as a way of putting a face on “this invisible population.”
There were moments Tuesday when an individual or two would stop to look at the couch, reading the messages that it displayed before walking off to tend to the rest of their day. One person even donated a few dollars to assist with the programs at Valley Youth House.
“Honestly, youth homelessness in Philadelphia is a big issue,” Johnson said. “City Council hosted a hearing at the end of April to talk through the fact that it’s happening and that we need to find a solution. We need to provide them with some support, they’re the future of Philadelphia.”
“The numbers are ridiculously staggering,” Owens said. “It’s particular community and subgroups that can almost be preventable if people weren’t being kicked out of their homes. The majority of the youth that are LGBTQ that are being homeless right now in this city is because their parents have not accepted their identity or sexual orientation and they’re kicking them out because of it.”
Owens added that with the week-long “pop-ups,” he wants to let people know that reciting that “couches don’t count,” the message that is also being talked about is another form of homelessness called housing insecurity.
“See, people think that homelessness is something that only is a situation which somebody is begging for money or panhandling, but homelessness is by definition one who does not have secure housing,” Owens said. “So there is a lot of LGBTQ youth who find themselves at houses and a lot of locations where they are not being identified. So they’ll be ‘rooming’ with a friend for two weeks and then they have to go to another house, then they have to go to a shelter so they’re hopping around a lot to different locations in order to survive. That is an issue, that is form of homeless and a very vulnerable situation.”