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Jon Bon Visits Oasis Center...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jon Bon Jovi visits Nashville shelter for homeless teens
Oasis Center visit gives rocker better grasp of problems
By Jenny Upchurch • THE TENNESSEAN • April 23, 2010

Rock star Jon Bon Jovi traded thousands of cheering fans Wednesday night for a quiet circle with a few kids Thursday afternoon.

The singer visited the Oasis Center, Nashville's only shelter for homeless teens, as part of his effort to understand what he calls "the new face of homelessness in America."

"The Oasis Center is really a beacon to youth," Bon Jovi said. "Having service providers at the same place that they can get a hot meal, a nap and a shower, it's a very welcoming place."

Bon Jovi spent about an hour with some of the Oasis kids. He sat in a circle with them, did yoga just as they do to start off a session, then listened to kids talk about what made them homeless and what could help them escape their condition.

"He was so engaged. He wasn't being a rock star," said Liz Workman, the center's educational coordinator. "He was just someone who is really, really passionate about this issue."

Her kids felt very empowered by being asked for solutions, she said, and talked frankly about the abuse or family tragedies they'd fled, about how simply lacking a birth certificate made it impossible to get a job or aid.

"You could tell he was honestly shocked by some of these situations," Workman said.
Afterward, Bon Jovi said the Oasis Center's array of services is innovative.
Almost 2,000 kids in the past year have used the Oasis drop-in center, a small room with a couch, some chairs and a couple of computer terminals. Some days it has four or five kids; some days it's 15 or 16.

They can get a hot meal, talk to a counselor, make a telephone call or take a shower. "Some just need to sleep because they've been out on the streets," Oasis CEO Hal Cato said.

Others use the overnight shelters, one for emergencies and one for long-term stays. The two bedrooms for emergency overnight stays are full every night, said counselor Jenny Gray.

Nashville has about 300 homeless youths at any time, Cato said. "They fly below the radar screen," he said.

Bon Jovi said: "The face of homelessness has changed dramatically. It's a lot of kids, a lot of single moms. It's a lot of hardworking Americans coast to coast that have been displaced these past couple of years. They don't need a handout. They need a hand up."

The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a Philadelphia-based charity, builds affordable housing, 250 units over the past six years. But affordable housing is the top rung on the ladder, Bon Jovi said, for those who can make it out. He wants to change the culture that causes homelessness.

"It's going to take money and effort and getting the word out," he said.
"Over the years, I've had the ear of government officials. I hope that by being on the streets, and out of the Beltway, that I can provide information and have an impact, on the HUD secretary and even the president," Bon Jovi said.

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