“It was really just a place that was created by the community to meet the need that people heard about, and had no idea that it was happening right here in their own backyard – that there were homeless youth, unaccompanied kids who were homeless,” said Hope 4 Youth’s executive director Lisa Jacobson.
The idea seemed so out of the place, that a group of people got together and founded Hope 4 Youth. They have a drop-in center that is open from 2 to 7 p.m. every weekday.
“For that period of five hours that we are open each day, we get to put our arms around these kids, and have them feel that we really care about them,” said Jacobson.
Some of their youth end up here after making bad decisions, but many end up here at no fault of their own.
“For many of these youth, they’ve been failed by the systems and adults in their life since the day they were born; and they become homeless not by chance, but by circumstance,” said Jacobson, who also mentioned kids who have gotten kicked out of their home for becoming pregnant, or after coming out as gay to their family.
Kids also get kicked out for bad choices that they make, whether that’s doing drugs, committing a crime, or something else.
“We don’t want to give up on kids. We need to unconditionally love them, even when they mess up. They are never going to be perfect, we’re not perfect,” said Jacobson.
When they come to Hope 4 Youth, everyone’s afternoon can look different.
“When the youth walk in, they decide what services they want to access. They can go into our food an hygiene pantry eight times a month, or twice a week, and they get to fill two bags, they get to kind of shop. We don’t just hand them stuff, they get to pick what they want from what we have donated from our community,” said Jacobson.
Hope 4 Youth also has a clothing closet, filled with new and like new clothing.
Amanda Stevens is one of the co-leaders of the donation team. She has been involved with Hope 4 Youth since the beginning.
“The thought of a child being homeless absolutely tore at me,” said Stevens. “It was not okay, and I want to do something to help. Something,” said Stevens.
Every Wednesday for nearly 4 years, she’s been getting up and doing that something. She comes here, accepts donations, and works to get the best items to the youth who need it most.
Amanda has never helped one of the homeless youth shop. She’s never seen their face when they get new jeans or a winter coat. In fact, she has never met one of the people that use any of the donations that she works hard on every week. But that doesn’t stop her.
“I keep coming back because I know that there are still people out there,” said Stevens. “Sometimes on a Tuesday night I say ‘I’m not going to go in, I’m going to call in sick and take a Wednesday off, I’m not going to go.’ But then you wake up, and you are thankful for what you have. I just slept in a really nice bed. I just had a roof, I don’t have any of those worries, I’m going to go in, its nothing for me to come in. Then at the end of a Wednesday you feel great.”
As Hope 4 Youth is meeting daily needs of homeless youth, they also have a new option in the county. On Dec. 5, 2016, they held a ribbon cutting ceremony for Hope Place, which is another housing option for twelve homeless young people.
“I think this will be, like the biggest blessing,” said Hope 4 Youth’s director of programs and properties Sara Kemp. “They are going to be having lots of support services, their own apartment, I mean, it’s going to be amazing.”
For the youth who get an apartment at Hope Place, it will be a complete studio apartment with a bed, a full kitchen, and their own bathroom.
Everything done at Hope 4 Youth is about creating ways to for those in homelessness to find a path out. Hope Place can create an environment to do that, by eliminating the daily fears about where to sleep, what to eat and how to stay warm. While at Hope Place, they have a address to receive mail, they establish rental history, and they work towards an education or a career.
“Transition them in their own place eventually. So they will have their own home, out in the community. They might come here and maybe go to school for two years, and get education. They might come here and start with a job and go into a career. So this will move them forward, transition them into the next phase of their life,” said Kemp.
“We work with them to get them out of homelessness,” said Jacobson. “It isn’t just about feeding them and clothing them, its about looking for jobs, applying for jobs, you know that’s going to get them out of being homeless.”
For the twelve people living at Hope Place, they know where they will be sleeping every night. But, for the rest of Hope 4 Youth’s clients, when the drop-in center closes in the evening, they don’t always have plan.
“We actually have volunteers who don’t volunteer that late shift on purpose, because 7 o’clock is the hardest time of our day, when we know we have to close our doors,” said Jacobson. “Sometimes its raining or snowing at 7 o’clock, and even those days are harder than the others. It’s cold out there, you know, and it’s sad to see them walk out into that place of loneliness and darkness.
“But we know we are going to be open the next day. They know we are going to be open the next day, and we are going to be here for them.”
And until the reopen, the fortunate kids might be sleeping on a friends couch, but the rest of the them end up wherever they can.
“We have youth living in cars, we have youth living outside, sleeping in the park. We talk to them about loitering and how that’s illegal, and we have youth that get permission to sleep in someone’s tin shed in their backyard,” said Jacobson
There’s always a need at Hope 4 Youth. A need for volunteers, money and items. They are constantly updating a list of what they need and sharing it with anyone who will listen.
Seeing the difference in the amount food and clothes that are on the shelf from one Wednesday to the next is a reminder for Stevens that what she does week after week really matters.
“It’s kind of startling how fast it leaves, and your heart kind of skips a beat, and then you just have faith that we are going to put the word out, or it’s just going to come. And, it comes. Then you get nervous again because it goes, and then it just comes again,” said Stevens.
The amount of items a person in homelessness can have is often limited, so the items that they go through most quickly are the consumable.
“Food is always going to be the number one item that leaves the shelf. Then it’s just basic hygiene products: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, underwear. Those kinds of things,” said Stevens
Usually, their needs are getting met, and they are able to meet to needs of the youth that they serve, thanks to individuals, churches, civic groups and businesses in the county.
“I’ve never seen anything like this community, and how they give and they give and they give,” said Jacobson. “It’s amazing and anybody should be proud to live here, to be a part a community that does that for our youth who are on the streets.”