Although they are difficult to count, Terrance Stone, CEO of Young Visionaries homeless youth shelter estimates there are 25,000 homeless kids in San Bernardino County at any given time. The California Homeless Youth Project agrees. "Homeless youth are highly mobile and often try hard to avoid detection and contact with adults. ... This means they are often not counted during annual homeless surveys." During 2008-09, 81,000 services were provided by federally-funded runaway and homeless youth programs in California. While these services ranged from beds to street outreach contacts, it isn't known how many homeless kids received no services.
There are only two shelters in San Bernardino County for kids who have run away from home, have been kicked out or are living on the streets. Young Visionaries, which has space available to house just four children at any time, is located in the city of San Bernardino. The other shelter, Our House, is in Redlands and has room for twelve homeless youth.
Homeless, as defined by the California Homeless Youth Project, “generally refers to unaccompanied minors ages 12 through 17 who are living apart from their parents or legal guardians.” Living situations for these youth could include living on the streets or on a friend's couch. They could be runaways or "throwaways" -- youth that have been thrown out of their family’s home.
Darryl Evey, Executive Director of the Family Assistance Program and Our House says the most common complaint he hears from kids is “my home life sucks." He continues, “A 16-year-old that is hormonal coupled with a parent that’s stressed out and working two jobs -- a parent that doesn’t have the [parenting] skills they need -- makes for a nice storm."
Stone says about 30 percent of the kids he sees at Youth Visionaries are experiencing either some sort of conflict at home over their sexual orientation or are victims of abuse, but most show up at the shelter over a “misunderstanding” at home. The California Homeless Youth Project agrees that family conflict and breakdown is an overwhelming reason for homelessness.
In order to qualify for federal funding, the shelters must contact the child’s parents or legal guardian within 72 hours of the youth’s arrival, create a reunification plan and have that plan completed within 21 days. The kids go through a phone screening first and must meet the minimum requirements. If they are using drugs, they need to get clean first. If they have a criminal record for violent crime, they can’t be at the shelter.
Other than that, when they get to the shelter the staff go over the rules and talk about counseling. However, not all the kids stay. Some kids leave and go back home. Some simply decide they don't want to be there and go back to the streets or to a friend's house, according to Evey. It appears that kids need to build up trust in the shelter. For example, one of the girls who showed up at the shelter was a prostitute. "She stayed for a day or two but didn't want to stay gone too long," said Evey. "Usually those types of girls will need to come into a shelter three or four times before they decide that it's safe."
Evey said that kids usually don’t mind giving their parents' information to the shelter. Stone agrees, “All of our placements have been positive." Both Evey and Stone ran non-profit organizations from which the idea of starting a youth shelter was born.
Evey is the Executive Director for the former High Desert Domestic Violence Program (now the Family Assistance Program), a program that “provides shelter, counseling and advocacy to victims of domestic violence and their children." He said girls come into the agency in Victorville for help because a boyfriend was beating them up, but since they were under 18, there was no place for them to go.
Stone, on the other hand, worked with gangs. He said, “San Bernardino has the third largest gang population in the United States." His experience with homeless youth is working with kids living on the streets, kids who are not in school and are unemployed. It was through this outreach that he saw the need for a place for these kids to go.
Stone also runs a print shop that gives kids an opportunity to acquire job skills and a first job to put on their resume.
Kids who spend a great deal of time on the streets risk the potential for sexual abuse and exploitation as well as drug abuse. According to the California Homeless Youth Project, more than half of street youth are homeless for two to nine years unless they get connected with services such as a homeless youth shelter.