SARASOTA, FL – The Sarasota YMCA recently received a grant of $132,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to support a new effort, the Street REACH program. As a project of the YMCA’s Schoolhouse Link program, Street REACH (Reconnecting Employment, Academics, and Community Housing) funding will support staffing, including a REACH Case Manager and a part-time Licensed Mental Health Counselor, supplies such as basic needs packs and clothing vouchers, and bus passes for clients. The goals of Street REACH are to keep unaccompanied homeless youth safe, help them enter stable housing, gain education and employment, improve interpersonal relationships and both mental health and physical wellness, and learn the life skills necessary for them to become self-sufficient.
Since 1997, Schoolhouse Link has served an average of 800 homeless children, families and unaccompanied homeless youth per year with a wide range of wraparound services that ensure they have the same opportunities to succeed in life as non-homeless youth. However, surveys of homeless youth showed clearly that further evaluation and mental health counseling would be valuable in ensuring these youth had the greatest chance to overcome their life challenges.
Street youth are a particularly vulnerable population. Lacking basic support systems, they are prime targets for victimization and likely to neglect medical care, fall behind in school and engage in antisocial behaviors. While severe family conflict and economic factors often are the main cause of youth homelessness, long-term issues like mental illness, drug addiction and alcoholism can intensify situations of poverty and put youth at greater risk of homelessness.
In 2017, the Sarasota YMCA conducted a survey of 63 unaccompanied homeless youth in Sarasota County. According to the survey, most homeless youth surveyed lacked health insurance, a stable income, transportation and a sustainable source of food, and nearly all had mental health issues.
Mental health is a critical concern for these young people. In a later survey of Sarasota County UHY conducted in January 2018, 61 percent of youth said that they often feel sad, anxious, or depressed and 22 percent said that during the past year they thought about hurting or killing themselves. The majority of homeless youth surveyed had a high incidence of childhood trauma, which is a strong predictor of adult alcoholism, intravenous drug use, chronic depression, job problems, health problems, adult homelessness and early death. Only 22 percent said that they were seeing a counselor or therapist. Of the 82 percent of youth that were not currently seeing a counselor or therapist, 32 percent said that they would like to start seeing one.
Street REACH outreach staff connect and build trust with homeless youth at locations where they often congregate and follow up regularly face-to-face, through social media, phone calls, and text messages. Homeless youth receive basic needs packs, clothing and transportation vouchers, access to emergency and transitional shelter services, and are connected with more than 20 different community providers to ensure their safety, well-being, educational, legal, employment, financial, mental and physical health, and long-term housing needs are met.
All homeless youth served are guaranteed access to safe emergency shelter 24/7 at the Sarasota YMCA Roberta Leventhal Sudakoff Youth Shelter and the Sarasota Homeless Outreach Team youth rooms at the Salvation Army. Victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking will be guaranteed specialized temporary shelter and transitional services that guarantee their personal safety and welfare.
“In looking at the living conditions and future outcomes for the homeless youth in our community, it became apparent that additional support – particularly mental health counseling by a trusted and regular provider – was essential,” said Ellen McLaughlin, program director for the YMCA Schoolhouse Link program. “We want these young people to understand that they are not to blame for their circumstances, to show them that there are people who care, and to encourage them to take the necessary steps to make better lives for themselves. We are grateful to HHS for the generous grant, which will enable us to truly change lives.”
Programs like Street REACH that help youth exit homelessness quickly and permanently yield a high return on investment. Street REACH is projected to contact and serve 130 youth per year, costing approximately $1,128 per youth. The potential cost savings per individual served are tremendous compared the estimated average of $17,153 per year that homeless youth cost taxpayers.
For more information, go to sarasotaymca.org/schoolhouselink or call 941-923-6100.
About the Sarasota YMCA
The Sarasota YMCA is committed to strengthening the community: through youth development by nurturing the potential of every child and teen, through healthy living by improving the community’s health and well-being, and through social responsibility by giving back and providing support to our neighbors. Every day, we work to make sure that everyone – regardless of age, income or background – has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. For more information, go to sarasotaymca.org or call (941) 951-2916.