Nonprofit entices homeless teens to sex ed course with free cell phones

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There's a new push to keep homeless teens from ending up pregnant.

Waikiki Health is handing out cell phones to young women who agree to take a sex education course.

The program is aimed at girls between the ages of 14 and 22 who are living on the street.

Statistics shows 50 percent of homeless youth have reported getting pregnant. In Hawaii, 30 percent have had a baby.

"We've been offering condoms for decades and we had a lot of pregnancies with our street youth," said Waikiki Health's Chief High Risk Service Officer, Kent Anderson. "The beauty of our long acting reversible contraceptive is once they have it implanted they're covered."

The program Wahine Talk teaches young women how to prevent pregnancy. After taking the course they get a free cell phone and a peer mentor.

"We really try to provide 24/7 support for these youth via text, via phone," said Anderson.

The girls are also asked to make a decision whether or not they want birth control.

Republican State Rep. Bob McDermott is critical of the program.

"The best intended ideas can sometimes blow up in our faces," said McDermott.

He believes the focus should be getting these young girls off the street rather than giving this vulnerable population contraceptives.

"Say they're being trafficked. Now we just gave them long term birth control and a cell phone so their pimp can get a hold of them. This is crazy," said McDermott. "Let's get them into foster care or reunite them with their parents if it's not an abusive situation."

Wahine Talk is funded through a federal grant.

Since its launch in 2016 -- 46 youth have enrolled at a cost of about $5,000 each.

Statistics from the first year of the program show 55 percent chose to begin the Depo-Provera shot. It's administered once every three months.

Another 35 percent decided to get either an implant or an IUD. That method of birth control prevents pregnancy up to five years.

The other 10 percent chose the pill, condoms or nothing at all.

To date only one of the girls has gotten pregnant.

"The reality is we're saving taxpayers," said Anderson. "The actual cost of teen pregnancy per birth in Hawaii is estimated to be over $26,000 per year."

Funding for the program ends in June. One idea to keep it going is to potentially partner with a mobile service provider.

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