By the end of this year, 16 homeless young people in Mesa County will have a new place to call home.
Karis, the Grand Junction-based nonprofit group dedicated to helping and empowering homeless and at-risk young people, is in the process of purchasing three houses to serve as long-term homes for unaccompanied homeless youth.
Bolstered by a five-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Executive Director John Mok-Lamme said the group is currently renting the three homes and ultimately plans to buy them.
Karis had to come up with another $150,000 to partially match the Health and Human Services grant.
Karis already operates several shelters for homeless and at-risk young people in the Grand Valley, including The House, an emergency shelter for homeless young people. People can live at The House for three weeks at a time and are given intensive case management and services while there.
But for some, Mok-Lamme said, three weeks is nowhere near enough time.
“You can tell, at The House, that they’re very grateful to be there, but they’re anxious right away about how long they have. They can’t exhale,” Mok-Lamme said. “When we wrote the grant, we called this a place to exhale. We just need a place where (youth) have a little more time.”
Qualified teens and young people will be able to live in the houses, rent-free, for up to two years while still receiving services, counseling and guidance from the organization’s staff and volunteers.
In total, there will be 13 rooms in three houses as well as three rooms in foster homes for younger teens, Mok-Lamme said.
Sarah Fuller, program coordinator at The House, said giving long-term housing to teens and young people gives them the stability to finish school, find and keep a job, save money and begin to heal from the trauma that often accompanies homelessness.
“Some of our teens cycle in and out of The House a lot. They might be able to move in with a family member or friend and stay stable for a few weeks or months, but maybe their family isn’t stable enough to keep them stable so then they end up back with us,” Fuller said.
“When that happens a lot, it keeps the teen from being able to make a lot of progress on their goals because their lives are so tumultuous. Giving them a place to stay where they don’t have to worry about getting kicked out would allow them to relax and breathe a little bit.”
Mok-Lamme said after The House opened in 2013, it became clear that homeless young people needed long-term housing solutions.
“I think we’ve known since six months after we opened The House that it’s not going to be enough for homeless kids to have short-term housing,” he said.
The DOLA grant will take the form of housing vouchers that pay a portion of the market value of rent — around $400 per month, per person. The state grant is good for three years, after which Karis would have to reapply for more money.
While the cost of renting and ultimately purchasing the homes is largely accounted for through grants, those homes still need to be furnished, Mok-Lamme said. That’s where he hopes the community will step up with donations.
“For all three buildings we are probably 10 percent funded for furnishings,” he said. “Furnishing is a big need for us right now.”
Fuller said she is excited to think about the impact stable housing will have on the teenagers she works with.
“I’m imagining what their lives will be like two years from now if they’re able to get a spot like this,” she said. “It’s neat to think about what a difference it could make for the teens I know, if they have a place to stay, if they have a case manager helping them figure out transportation to school or helping them write a resume.”