Catholic program helps young woman break from former life

Amanda Mellish led a troubled childhood and youth, got thrown out of the house, was in and out of jail five or six times, failed multiple rehab programs, overdosed on heroin and was running from the law. 

At the end of September, she found a more promising life at PATH Transitional Age Project for Young Adults, one of several homeless programs run by Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  

“I was really serious about wanting to do something to better my life,” Mellish, 22, said. 

PATH, an acronym for Project Assistance Transition from Homelessness, was founded in 2000 to reach 18- to 24-year-olds. 

“Young people may not make good decisions by virtue of their age, and then you compile that with addictions, mental illness and homelessness, and you have a difficult population,” said Al Lane, director of Catholic Charities’ Butler County office north of Pittsburgh, where PATH is located. 

That office also oversees two other homeless programs — Safe Harbor, which provides temporary accommodations and support, and HOPE, for chronically homeless people with mental health and or substance-abuse issues. The Pittsburgh office runs St. Joseph House of Hospitality for men older than 50. 

A new lifestyle 

Mellish had used Catholic Charities services when she needed a place to stay for a couple of nights, but that’s all she wanted. Her attitude changed last year when she was in a halfway house and volunteered at another Catholic Charities program. 

“I didn’t want to go back to my old lifestyle,” she told OSV. 

PATH set Mellish up in an apartment and hooked her up with a number of services. She is in a 12-step program, working with a state agency that may help her get into college, and is looking for someone who will hire her despite her criminal record. 

The package of support includes transportation and seeing that she has food and necessities. Most important, her caseworkers maintain constant contact. 

“I feel like it’s not just their job,” Mellish said. “They are like a second family, and I have a lot of friends I can talk to. I know they actually care about me.” 

PATH coordinator Buddy Turner noted that there are problems specific to young adults who are kicked out of a home or who age out of the foster-care system and find themselves couch surfing or living on the streets. 

“It’s a really tough population, and the majority that we see are not ready for a change,” he said. “Yet there are the ones like Amanda who really want to do this, and we will do everything to help them. It really rests at their door whether they want to do the work.” 

Mellish is determined to make it. 

“I’m trying to do everything I can to get myself financially and mentally stable, to get myself together,” she said. “I’m in this for however long it takes. I don’t know where I would be without PATH, where I would be living, and I don’t know if I still would be clean. But I want to be as far as I am today.” 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

Homeless Young Adults (sidebar)

Abuse: Between 40 percent and 60 percent of young adults who are homeless have experienced physical abuse, while 35 percent have been sexually abused. 

Substance use: Up to 50 percent of homeless young adults report recent substance abuse — about twice the rate of their peers who are not homeless. 

Mental health: Homeless young adults are at a greater risk than peers to suffer mental health problems.

Source: Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH)

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