Youth group leader takes ‘homeless’ challenge

Shawn Mahone, Sr., executive director of Young Men and Women for Change, stands in a vacant home at 727 Oakwood Ave. where he will stay during his 72 hours of homelessness.
Shawn Mahone, Sr., executive director of Young Men and Women for Change, stands in a vacant home at 727 Oakwood Ave. where he will stay during his 72 hours of homelessness.

Shawn Mahone, Sr., rested against the wall of a downtown carryout store, letting Monday afternoon’s light rain slowly dampen his gray sweatsuit.

Ten minutes down, only 71 hours and 50 minutes to go.

Mr. Mahone has challenged himself to be “homeless” until Thursday afternoon, spending nights on the floor of his vacant childhood home, and days wandering city streets hoping to raise awareness of youth who are “headed down the wrong road.”

“I want to bring out some awareness for the youth that are getting suspended from school, kicked out, not achieving,” said Mr. Mahone, executive director of Young Men and Women for Change.

The Toledo native has done this — lived on the streets — once before. Then also by choice.

During that temporary homelessness in March, 2011, Mr. Mahone had 27 children spend time with him on the streets so they could see what it might be like to live without a permanent home and help from family or friends.

“My main thing is helping kids understand that they have three options if you don't get your life together: the prison yard, the grave yard, and the third is being homeless,” Mr. Mahone said. “And that’s why we’re doing this project.”

Young Men and Women for Change offers a “scared straight” bootcamp-style program, “Dose of Reality,” that basically breaks down children and then builds them up with “tough love.”

To get through the chilly days and freezing nights, Mr. Mahone outfitted himself with three layers of clothing and will carry his cell phone — for security and so parents who want their children to spend time on the streets with Mr. Mahone can reach him — $10, identification, and pamphlets about his program.

At his childhood home, 727 Oakwood Ave., he has three cans of miniature sausages, a sleeve of crackers, a bottle of soda, and some water.

He plans to sleep on top of a too-small sleeping bag and keep warm with blankets that were donated to him, he said.

He plans to go to the Cherry Street Mission downtown to “wash up.”

During the day, he expects to spend most of his time downtown passing out information about his program and talking to people — anyone who won’t write him off — about youth homelessness and his organization.

He also has a small plastic coffee container that he intends to use to collect donations — as of Monday afternoon, he'd managed to raise only $1. From his mother.

Mr. Mahone also hopes he will be able to make it to One Government Center in search of city leaders, specifically Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins.

“He needs to have a program that’s implemented citywide that’s going to hold kids accountable, especially kids who have not quite made it to [the juvenile detention center] so we can reduce some of those numbers,” Mr. Mahone said. “It’s time for Toledoans to think outside the box.”

Tom Bonnington, executive director of the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board, said homeless youth face additional dangers — such as human trafficking and being picked up to be drug mules — and Mr. Mahone’s time on the streets will assist officials.

“Any identification of gaps in service is going to be beneficial,” Mr. Bonnington said.

Any parent who wants their child to spend time with Mr. Mahone during the days of his homelessness can reach him at 567-277-5352.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.