Unaccompanied youth ages 16 to 24
Youth Drop-In Center
For young adults who aspire to go higher.
Homeless young adults, ages 16 – 24, come from a history of insufficient support systems, various types of abuse, episodes in and out of the foster care system, parents with addiction, and homelessness as children. As children age out these situations, they are often expected to become a productive member of society on their own. However, the extreme privilege gaps that these youth experience make them vulnerable to a cycle of poverty and homelessness for generations to come.
"Asking for help is a heavy decision. It's a huge fear of the unknown. I thought, 'If I tell someone I'm homeless, will my mom get in trouble? Then what will happen to my little brothers? Will I be forced into foster care?' So I just said, 'Nah, I'm good. I'd rather kick it on my own. At least I'll know I'm in control of my own life.'
- Landon, 18
It is estimated that in 2017 there were 500+ unaccompanied youth in Sarasota County alone. Unaccompanied Youth are young people ages 16-24 who are experiencing homelessness and are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. They encounter many barriers related to obtaining safe and stable housing and often report difficulty related to having to stay in places where they can be kicked out at any time, being exposed to predatory people that take advantage of them, being too young to sign a lease, lack of income to afford market rate rent, lack of money to pay for housing application fees, lack of income to pay for move-in expenses, lack of credit history, lack of experience living in a place of their own, and/or a history of legal problems.
How does this happen?
Many homeless youth decide to leave home after years of abuse, strained relationships, substance abuse by a family member, and parental neglect. In one study, more than half the youth interviewed during shelter stays reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving and did not care.
Some youth become homeless with their families because of financial crises. They can be separated from them by shelter, transitional housing, or child welfare policies.
A history of foster care is also correlated with becoming homeless earlier and remaining homeless longer. Some youth living in residential or institutional placements become homeless upon discharge; they are too old for foster care but are discharged with no housing or income support.
We know this population is underrepresented and largely unidentified, however, we believe that if we can engage them now, we can prevent them from experiencing the ongoing traumas of homelessness. Our Outreach Youth Advocate is tasked with identifying and engaging with at-risk and unaccompanied youth in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Once initial contact is made, the Outreach Youth Advocate works to build rapport in order to link youth to a safety net of services including safe shelter, counseling, healthcare, transportation, identification recovery, school preparedness, and employment. Case management is offered and provided for as long as necessary. For youth 18+, housing programs are offered depending on availability and client needs.
“I felt safer on the streets than I did in my own home.”
- Aidan, 16
Opened in March 2017, New Heights is the most comprehensive program serving unaccompanied homeless youth via wrap-around case management services and Transitional Housing for youth ages 18-24. We expect participants to (1) Engage, full time. This involves working, going to school, volunteering, or a combination of the three. (2) Attend monthly-organized outings. These outings are hosted by a variety of volunteers that are focused on developing social skills, cultivating responsibility and punctuality, and exposing participants to various careers, cultural experiences, and fun! (3) Refrain from active substance abuse.
A hand up.
One of the biggest barriers for unaccompanied youth is lack of financial resources, therefore, services for New Heights participants are completely free. Living space, utilities, and access to the Harvest Food Pantry are included with the other services offered. One of the first activities the Case Manager will do with her clients is to help them to create and maintain a monthly budget. Instead of paying rent, participants are expected to pay into an escrow account on the first of each month to simulate the practice of rent paying. The amount is determined by their budget; for some, it is $50 and others, up to $500. Upon exiting the program, clients leave with enough money saved up to pay for move-in expenses or other immediate needs and with the budgeting skills to maintain stability.
New Heights is designed to help young adults climb the mountains of life using seven pathways. With the help and guidance of their case manager, clients set short- and long-term goals in the following areas.
"That's my homeless experience in one word. I'm tired from being on my feet at work all day and not sleeping all night. I'm tired from walking everywhere. I'm tired from being up early to catch the bus. I'm tired of getting the runaround from people when I DO ask for help. I'm tired of being in people's way - on their couches and in their space. I'm just tired. "
- Landon, 18
A safe place.
Engaging homeless youth in services is a challenge; the new Youth Center will change that. This a safe gathering place for youth ages 16-24. Homeless and at-risk youth will have a safe place to shower, store belongings, meet with counselors and case managers, and attend youth-centered support groups. Community organizations that would like to hold workshops or provide services are welcome to schedule time for space. In partnership with Gulf Coast Community Foundation, we repurposed the bungalow with design and decoration ideas from Youth Action Board members, who wanted to ensure a welcoming, secure, and functional space for homeless and at-risk youth with few other places to turn.