COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Advocates say it’s a hidden population that desperately needs help here in Ohio.

Youth homelessness is on the rise in central Ohio, but according to a new study, the state is not doing nearly enough to help this growing population get off the streets.

Ohio is 42nd in the nation when it comes to dealing with youth homelessness, according to True Colors United.

So what can the state do to help these kids who are being left behind? The group also gave recommendations. 

“I was only 15, about to turn 16 when I had him,” said Jamaka Garrett.

It was soon after Garrett had her son that she became homeless.

“It was hard, like trying to juggle being a mom and trying to make sure I finished school, make sure his health is taken care of, make sure I’m healthy and making sure we have somewhere to sleep at night was hard,” she said.

She’s just one of the thousands of kids who experience homelessness every year in Franklin County. 

But according to True Colors United, which released its annual state index on youth homelessness, Ohio ranks just 42nd in the nation when dealing with the issue.

The group bases its ranking on laws and policy, systems, and environment.

“Many of our youth do live literally on the streets, sleeping in tents, so many of our youth are simply displaced,” said Ann Bischoff, CEO of Star House. “They have no permanent place to call home.”

Star House is the only drop-in center for homeless youth in Columbus.

This is especially an issue for the LGBTQIA+ youth community in Columbus. According to the Kaleidoscope Youth Center, they are 120 percent more likely to become homeless than their peers.

“Families of origin parent guardians are unwilling to accept them or affirm their identities so they are kicked out, often our young people will leave home,” said Kaleidoscope Youth Center Executive Director Erin Upchurch.

Kaleidoscope Youth Center is dedicated to serving and supporting LGBTQIA+ youth.

So how can Ohio improve? True Colors United offered suggestions like creating an office to focus on youth homeless programs or require LGBTQIA+ training for staff working at shelters.

Bischoff had some suggestions as well.

“To find true solutions, we need to make sure that we are creating councils, statewide councils, local councils with people like Jamaka who are influencing and sharing what really needs to take place to impact change,” she said.

At Kaleidoscope, they also spoke on the importance of expanding the definition of homeless so that more funding can get to the children before they end up on the street. 

“We’ve got to meet all of our young people where they are,” said Upchurch. “We can’t just wait for them to be on the street or in a tent or sleeping in a car or doing things that are not safe for their well being.”

As for Jamaka, she has just signed a lease at an apartment for her and her son thanks to the resources at Star House.

She said she hopes her story can help any of the other children in Columbus who experience homelessness.