Organizations help provide basic necessities
In November, The Kitchen, a Springﬁeld organization dedicated to ending homelessness, announced that it would be closing the Missouri Hotel. While there is not a set date on the closing, there is a solution for when it does: Housing First, or supportive housing. Instead of a shelter, those in need will be placed in houses and apartments around Springﬁeld. Support teams would also be available for health care, medication, and family relations 24 hours a day.
According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, this model has proven successful. In Seattle, supportive housing was used for those with chronic alcohol addictions. Those in the housing experienced fewer emergency room visits, inpatient hospitalizations, and shelter stays. In return, taxpayers saved over $4 million.
This is not the ﬁrst time that Springﬁeld organizations have had to readjust their tactics for helping the homeless and impoverished. In 2012, a federal grant that beneﬁted youth in these situations was cut. This directly impacted youth utilizing the Rare Breed’s services, a branch of The Kitchen that focuses on helping homeless teenagers and young adults. Loni Brewer, the coordinator of youth services at the Rare Breed, took it upon herself to make sure the organization’s services did not suffer.
“I wanted to make sure our services were at the same level or better than before,” Brewer said. “So I called rich people.”
In a matter of days, the Rare Breed received three $20,000 checks. Brewer, along with the other staff at the Rare Breed, also raises awareness and funds through events such as the Springﬁeld Sleepout, where participants sleep in rudimentary shelters similar to how the homeless spend their nights.
For Brewer, the story came full circle. Before becoming a volunteer and then director of the program, Brewer herself was an at-risk teenager who suffered abuse.
Some assumed that youth homelessness is always a result of abuse, but this is often not the case.
Callen Pecoraro, an Empowering Youth coordinator, has seen many different causes of homelessness. Empowering Youth, like the Rare Breed, is an organization focused on helping homeless children.
“Homelessness can be a variety of situations,” she said. “There are the 16- and 17-year-olds that choose not to live at home, but there are also children that have parents trying to secure homes.”
Collaboration and services
Because of the various types of living situations, both the Rare Breed and Empowering Youth must collaborate, according to both Pecoraro and Brewer. Empowering Youth has shelters, while the Rare Breed has the Transitional Living Program – better known as “the TLP” among staff and participants. For up to 18 months, 16- to 21-year-olds who actively participate in the Rare Breed’s activities, education, employment, and community service for 40 hours per week while saving money can live in the transitional living facilities.
But the two types of housing accommodate different needs. For example, if a parent is losing housing or going through a medical procedure that impedes their ability to take care of their family, children can come to live on the Empowering Youth campus for three weeks until the parent(s) resolve the situation. This step prevents the state from taking away custody of the children in hopes that the family can be reunited.
On the other hand, participants of the Rare Breed’s Transitional Living Program will most likely not move back home. “Here, kids have been in bad enough situations where they cannot go home,” Brewer said.
Ultimately, the TLP is meant to prepare youths to live independently. It is a “basic training” period that develops interview, ﬁnance, and other skills needed to survive in the real world.
The Pregnancy Care Center also helps the Rare Breed. The center, located on the south side of Springﬁeld, has a bus that comes to the Rare Breed every Wednesday for parents and expecting mothers who do not have transportation.
Groups such as the Pregnancy Care Center provide crucial education, according to Pecoraro. Empowering Youth does not have a GED program, but the Rare Breed does. Therefore, many teens who initially participate in Empowering Youth utilize the Rare Breed’s independent GED program or even transfer to the TLP.
Springﬁ eld Public Schools provides assistance to teenagers and young adults facing homelessness or displacement as well, according to Taylor Blackwell from Drury’s Ofﬁ ce of Diversity and Inclusion. Primarily, they make sure students have transportation and access to free/reduced lunches. This is the district’s legal obligation under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. For more information, contact the Diversity and Inclusion Ofﬁce at 417-523-0251.
While Brewer can testify to the power of the Rare Breed’s programs for graduates, many participants drop out of the TLP. Katie Clark, a youth services worker at the Rare Breed, believes youths who are at-risk or homeless can be too preoccupied with surviving to complete the program.
“They aren’t thinking about the future; they’re thinking about here and now,” Clark said. The youths who enter the program can also be stubborn. Clark noted, “It’s a hard pattern to break. It takes a long time to break down their walls.”
The importance of support
Ultimately, the success of participants seems to depend on one factor: a support system, according to Pecoraro. “If any kid has a good support system, it increases their chances to be more stable,” she said.
But this support system does not have to be biological family; it also can be friends. Many youths ﬁnd lifelong friends through the hardships they share. As long as it is a positive support system, both Empowering Youth and the Rare Breed will do their best to sustain it. Pecoraro explained how in one case, a boy lived all the way in Willard. He had a job, friends, and a shelter; therefore, Empowering Youth did its best to provide him services – even if it meant driving all the way to Willard.
The possible Drury difference
Ed Derr, Drury University’s Director of Counseling, Testing, and Disability support services, is also an advocate for support and encouragement. Derr said that many teenagers who come out of at-risk or homeless situations do not attend college. But at Drury, there is a student who overcame these obstacles. Derr attributes his success to encouragement from his foster family, his caseworker, and Drury’s support. Drury families make an effort to invite him to their homes during the holidays, Derr said. Housing arrangements are also made on campus.
At the same time, Derr thinks that Drury could have even more of an impact on this community. “I wish Drury would reach out more,” he said. “It’s a small school, it’s a community, and we have the right resources. It’s not overwhelming.”
In fact, it could be access to a higher education that makes the difference guiding teenagers from homelessness to self-sufficiency, especially since poverty is generational, Clark said. “If you’re born into it, your kids will be born into it. ”
According to the Missourians to End Poverty Coalition, in Missouri, those with a four-year degree make almost twice as much a week than those with only a high school diploma. Even more, those with a GED make $4,100 more a year than those without one, but also make $4,100 less than those with actual high school diplomas. Because of this, it is more crucial than ever to ensure teenagers and young adults pursue a higher education, and Drury could play an integral role in their futures.
Beyond the Breed: From homeless to hopeful
Joshua Wilson was out on his own by the age of 18, before he had even finished high school. He didn’t have a lot of direction in life but still wanted to pursue an education. He thought about joining Job Corps, a state education and training program, where he might finish his high-school degree, and learn a trade. But life didn’t go as planned, and the Rare Breed soon became an integral part of Wilson’s life. Wilson discovered the organization through friends in the area. He stopped by but wasn’t interested.
When he was 19, Wilson got engaged – with a child on the way. He had a house, a job, and a car; everything was falling into place. But then his fiancée decided to leave, and once again, he found himself homeless. According to Wilson, he had one thought on his mind: “I’m homeless, I’m hungry… I’m going to go and get some food.” But when he went to the Rare Breed, he found more than just a meal.
Wilson learned about the Transitional Living Program, how to apply for food stamps, and about the other services offered. By December 2013, Wilson had made it into the Transitional Living Program. A few months later, he got his GED.
“I didn’t have a job, but I had my education,” he said. “To me, this was a huge accomplishment. It was something that I always struggled with.”
Wilson ended up leaving the TLP to stay with his mother, who moved back to Springfield from Florida, for a period of time. Currently, he is living with a friend. But he is missing the most important thing in his life: his daughter. Rare Breed directed Wilson to legal council for the situation. But even more importantly, the Rare Breed provides Wilson with everyday necessities during his search for a job and permanent home.