Youth Shelters and Family Services provides homeless youth with essentials—water, food, warm clothing and case management—to keep them safe on the streets.
Since 1995, YSFS has performed proactive street outreach to homeless kids in Santa Fe. Staff and volunteers take backpacks filled with bottled water, non-perishable food and other resources, locate homeless and at risk youth, and extend them a helping hand. Staff offer more help and resources at the YSFS street outreach drop-in center located at 402 S. St Francis drive.
Since inception, Street Outreach’s “reach” has grown by leaps and bounds. It now serves 700 homeless youth per year, including youth from Santa Fe and surrounding counties, making YSFS a regional service agency.
Street Outreach provides anonymous, free services to homeless youth up to age 22. At risk youth can not only receive immediate help and sustenance on the street, they are encouraged to visit the drop-in center for further services: a warm meal; a shower and chance to wash clothing; access to phones and computers; a start on a GED; counseling on how to obtain various forms of id and fill out applications for permanent housing or jobs; and referrals for health care and counseling and if a kid is having second thoughts, street outreach will work with them to help them find a way home.
“Street Outreach is staffed by a wonderful team of people who are all aware of the vital nature of the service in providing young people with a unique environment in which to feel safe and connected,” says program director, Paige Kitson."
Youth Shelters and Family Services provides longer term aid and shelter to at-risk youth whowant to turn their lives around and find home again.
Before 1980, homeless and at-risk youth in Santa Fe were placed in the Juvenile Detention Center; even though they’d technically not broken any laws, there simply was no place else to put them. In that year, a group of concerned citizens put together funds to provide temporary shelter and sustenance to this swelling sub-population. Though demand was much higher, the new shelter, called La Otra Puerta—the first of its kind in northern New Mexico—could serve only about a dozen of the homeless kids, but it was an auspicious start.
Then, as now, the Youth Emergency Shelter took any comers between ages 10 and 17 who were homeless or runaways; some are from the street, some are referred by the Children, Youth and Family Department, or Juvenile Justice Department, and some by families seeking a respite. Youth can stay up to 90 days, though most stay no more than 30. They are provided three home-cooked meals per day and their own bed in a dorm setting. More than that, staff immediately begin helping them address physical and behavioral health needs. In the meantime, residents attend local public schools, participate in art projects, cooking classes, visits to the local library and museums. Residents are also counseled in life skills and informed of access to GED classes. In all cases, the priority of YSFS is to safely house homeless youth, and provide them with life-changing tools to find a path forward.
Kids at the emergency shelter are not locked down and must stay voluntarily clean and sober while residing there. Within 72 hours of admission, the youth must sign a written agreement which states they want to stay there; at the same time, consent for their residence must be provided by parents or a guardian.
Says the Youth Emergency Shelter program director, Korina Lopez, “At YSFS, we work with youth from a strengths-based and youth development perspective rather than the idea that the youth who come here are ‘bad kids’. We are not about tolerance here. We believe even the most self-destructive behaviors are dealt with by harm reduction.” For many kids, involvement with YSFS becomes a longer journey to empowerment, self-improvement and ultimately, independence.
YSFS provides more than a roof, a bed, a meal and a shower. Through supportive programs it provides homeless and at-risk youth the tools to change their lives for the better- so that theydo not return to the streets.
Homeless youth, age 17-21, are eligible for supervised apartment living in YSFS’ transitional living program. This program has apartments available to serve 10 clients, including homeless parenting youth and those who have aged out of CYFD custody or foster care.
Residents of TLP have rigorous schedules, including at least 20 hours of educational, occupational or skill building work per week. They also must attend YSFS life skills courses. Rent is a nominal $100—which is returned to the client when he or she completes the program and is prepared to move on to the next phase of his life.