Seeking Shelter

E4C and ECF help kids get what they need most — a home

The teen years are challenging for most people, even under the best of circumstances.

Take away basic needs, and the barriers become insurmountable. Forget school troubles and social awkwardness – try living under a bridge at 15 years old.

“We’ve recently served two youth who were in a relationship and living under a bridge, with nowhere else to go,” says Renee Strong, Program Manager for Inner City Youth Housing Project (ICYHP), a project managed by E4C. For more than 20 years the project provided housing for homeless youth, while maintaining an ongoing relationship with ECF.

Strong and her staff work with youth who are homeless, on the streets, or have no supportive adult connections. ICYHP is one of the few programs that serve youth with or without Children’s Services status, which has the flexibility to help those youth in most need.

“A lot of housing programs have certain expectations for young persons to meet in order to stay,” she says. “Our program has expectations too, but we first try to meet them where they’re at, so they fully buy into that next step. It is not realistic to tell a youth who’s been living under a bridge that they’ll need to immediately enroll in school.”

“We don’t say, ‘Why would you make such a horrible choice?’ Our approach is more like, ‘Wow that sounds really tough – are you OK? How can we help you keep yourself safe?'”

In celebrating its 25th anniversary, ECF included E4C as one of 25 organizations to receive a grant of $25,000 toward projects that will help the community over the next 25 years. Director of Grants Craig Stumpf-Allen explains that selecting E4C for the anniversary grants was a no-brainer. “We looked at organizations that we had relationships with over the years, who we thought could use the money to impact the community, and asked them how they would do that,” he says. E4C made perfect sense, he says, because it’s a onetime cost – three roofs – that will last 25 years.

ICYHP owns five homes, all built in the ’50s and ’60s, so repair and maintenance is becoming more costly as the buildings move into their fifth and sixth decades. “The roofs are the most major component. If a youth comes off the street into a home with a bucket in the hallway catching water, it would not be a safe, adequate or respectable living environment,” Strong says.

The housing program’s first goal is to create a safe living place for homeless youth, but its main objective is to support and develop a stable helping relationship with them. “These youth face extreme turmoil,” Strong says. “We don’t say, ‘Why would you make such a horrible choice?’ Our approach is more like, ‘Wow that sounds really tough – are you OK? How can we help you keep yourself safe?'”

Because each home can only house five youth at a time, vacancy is near zero. “When young people are living on the street, and they’ve been tossed from group care and foster homes, they don’t have many people that care about them,” Strong says. “So if we start building a relationship with these youth, so that they will come home regularly, then that’s a success.”