Bridge Over Troubled Waters: A Haven for Homeless Youth

Homeless youth are at risk now more than ever in the age of COVID-19.

April 10, 2020

Unaccompanied homeless youth are always afraid, but that fear has multiplied exponentially during the COVID-19 crisis. Most of these young people are losing what little income they had and are hungry, tired and desperate for help. As it has since 1970, Bridge Over Troubled Waters is there to offer assistance, not only with its Mobile Medical Van, which is handing out food to increasingly larger and hungrier crowds of young people, but through its runaway hotline, counseling, support and even its residential programs.

HUD’s 2019 Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress showed that there are more than 7,000 homeless youth in Massachusetts.


Homeless Youth in MA graph
Source: HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) for Congress
Many of them are members of homeless families, a group that has been growing the last 13 years. In fact, during that time period, Massachusetts had the greatest growth in family homelessness in the country. But there are also numerous unaccompanied minors. Data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education show a near doubling of that population since 2010. Lucas Spearing fit into the latter category. He reached out to Bridge at the age of 19 when he felt unwanted by his adopted family. He went through the Bridge’s Transitional Living Program, which includes housing and counseling, then lived at Bridge’s Liberty House residence. Now he’s enrolled in college, but as with thousands of other college students, his school closed all in-person classes. Bridge staff met Lucas at his dorm, helped him pack up and found him temporary housing. They also set him up with technology and resources so that he can complete his online classes.  

Bridge Over Troubled Waters Medical Van
Bridge Over Troubled Waters Mobile Medical Van (Photo Courtesy of BOTW)
“Young mothers are another group of homeless youth we are especially concerned about now,” said Executive Director Elisabeth Jackson. “One of our mothers was working at a daycare center, which closed abruptly due to the virus. Bridge helped her file for unemployment and we’re providing both mother and daughter with housing, food and necessities to help them stay safe and make it through this incredibly tough time. It’s tough for all of us, but especially for the young people we serve.”

This is one in a series of stories about grantees of the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund. These Greater Boston nonprofits are on the front-lines of our community's response to this crisis. While we are all struggling to cope with the hardships of the coronavirus, these organizations, their leaders and their staff are serving the most vulnerable among us. Boston Indicators, the Boston Foundation’s Research Center, is providing valuable data and analysis for these stories. Visit for more on the COVID-19 Response Fund.