He scans the streets to give young a path

A Synergy Project poster with a phone number for help is tacked to the door of an abandoned house near Quakertown. Shane Burroughs was checking for homeless youths who stay there.
A Synergy Project poster with a phone number for help is tacked to the door of an abandoned house near Quakertown. Shane Burroughs was checking for homeless youths who stay there. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 18, 2013

In one of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania, they sleep behind Dumpsters, in baseball dugouts, huddled in dark tunnels and abandoned houses.

They have been kicked out or walked out by choice, but the result is the same. They have no place to live.

Shane Burroughs, 39, spends his days patrolling the streets and looking for them. He is a one-man street team for Bucks County's Synergy Project, an initiative to help young people, 21 and under, who are homeless.

"I was kicked out and going from friend's house to friend's house. For the last month, I've just been" living on the streets," said Jake Winter, 20, who met Burroughs through a friend. "Being homeless sucks."

The Warminster-based Synergy Project offers a 13-bed shelter, counseling, social services, and a program that helps homeless youth to live independently.

It is part of Valley Youth House, an Allentown-based nonprofit that aids abused, neglected, and homeless youth and their families throughout the region.

Last year, the Synergy Project worked with about 180 youth.

Many of them live on the streets that Burroughs scours daily. He often drives 120 miles throughout the county in a jeep whose color he calls "rescue green."

He refers youth to housing programs and social agencies. He doles out supplies that help them survive on the streets. Piles of socks, batteries, toilet paper, underwear, and hand warmers are stacked to the roof of his jeep. On Thursday, he purchased a pair of shoes for winter to replace ones with holes in them.

"Hello? Hello? Anybody here? The Synergy Project," Burroughs announced days earlier during a patrol that started when he entered a dark railroad tunnel in Perkasie.

No answer.

Minutes later, he cautiously opened the door of a trash-strewn abandoned house near Quakertown where young people are known to crash.

Burroughs, who grew up in Lower Southampton and has worked as a youth pastor, joined the Synergy Project in 2009.

He resides in Doylestown with his wife, Rebecca, and son, Ethan, 7.

"It's rewarding when you see a kid show great improvement, finish school or get a job," Burroughs said.

Natasha Dechant appears to be on the verge of turning a corner.

The 20-year-old Quakertown resident has been on her own since her family moved to Arizona and she moved in with a boyfriend. She's been living from couch to couch since then.

She ate lunch with Burroughs on Monday during a stop in Quakertown where the two just talked.

"In the beginning, I was an angry person. I ditched school a lot," said Dechant, who is now staying with a friend. "I was my own kryptonite."

Dechant, who is hoping to land a job at a local retail store, says she is no longer relying on anybody to fix things.

After lunch, Burroughs drove to Levittown for a visit with Ryan Hoover.

Hoover left home two years ago when he was prohibited from keeping his dog in his mother's apartment building.

"I didn't want to give [the dog] up," Hoover said.

He stayed with friends and then in two tent cities, one behind Lower Bucks Hospital. He passed the time by drinking a lot.

"It helped me forget," Hoover said.

Burroughs helped Hoover land a spot in Pennco Tech, a technical school in Bristol Township. Hoover lives on campus and will soon graduate from the heating and air-conditioning repair program.

He gave up the dog long ago and has curtailed his drinking.

But not all stories end happily. A homeless friend of Dechant's died last fall of an overdose in Quakertown.

Burroughs still has a tiny candle that he lit for her in his jeep, but he says the optimistic moments overwhelmingly outnumber the sad ones.

Last week, Winter moved into a hotel with a friend, and he's looking for a job.

"I do see people as being on a journey," Burroughs said. "And I love the idea that I may have something to contribute."

Contact Kristin E. Holmes

at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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