Starting next month, young people ages 16 to 22 who are homeless or on the verge of it will be able to find refuge in an apartment complex for up to 18 months.
The nonprofit Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County will start the program with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to be used over the next five years.
It will have room for up to eight people at a time. They’ll double up in four apartments at a local complex, which will be near another unit that will serve as an office, staffed 24 hours per day to provide casework and access to computers. The Youth Service Bureau asked that the complex’s name be withheld out of concern for the clients’ confidentiality and safety.
Clients will work on education, job-seeking, household, money management and other skills as they try to become self sufficient, said agency director Jennifer Pickering. Many have been in foster care or dealt with trauma, abuse or mental health issues.
“The whole goal is to get them stabilized,” she said.
The number of homeless students in northern Indiana has risen over the past decade. In the 2015-16 school year, more than 230 students in St. Joseph County faced uncertainty about where they’d sleep from night to night, the Indiana Youth Institute has reported.
But those numbers tend to be low because troubled youths don’t want to be counted — and they don’t want anyone to know they’re homeless, Brady August said at an IYI seminar last month. August runs the Youth Service Bureau’s Street Outreach program.
A part-time therapist will be devoted to the new program, dubbed “Keystone.” And Pickering expects the rooms to fill up by the end of the year.
It will be similar to, and at the same South Bend apartment complex, as the agency’s Porch Light Transitional Housing program, which helps moms ages 16-21 and up to two of their children.
But the units won’t appear any differently to the public, Pickering said.
Lani Vivirito, chief programming officer for the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, said she welcomes anything to diversify local resources for the homeless.
“I really believe young people do better in a smaller, home-like setting,” Vivirito said.
Young people still have developmental needs so when they enter a large shelter like the center, which hosts about 200 men and women at a time, Vivirito said, “It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.”
Clients come to the Youth Service Bureau through its Street Outreach program, in-school programs or its Safe Station shelter, which serves kids ages 12-18.
When they need a longer-term home, Pickering said, the agency has often looked to family members, neighbors or other homeless shelters — while still offering services to the young people. If they’re younger than 18, the agency works with the Indiana Department of Child Services.
“There’s a real benefit to knowing they have a safe place of their own,” she said.
As much as the agency tried, though, some young people have still ended up hopping from one house to another, said Mary Dunn, a social worker at Riley High School. She served on the Youth Service Bureau for six years and urged the agency to seek the federal grant. The Family & Children’s Center had used the grant to offer transitional housing until perhaps seven years ago, she said.
“That was a huge gap in our community,” Dunn said.