Imagine you’re standing outside of a high school at the end of the day when the bell rings, and a wave of youth comes streaming out. Their chatter is infectious, upbeat. They are happy their school day is finished and eager to hang out with their friends, go to practice, see their families, or maybe to a part-time job.
On any given night in Tulsa, Okla., there are more than 1,700 homeless youth. All those young people you pictured leaving that school have nowhere to go. Nothing to eat. No one to care for them.
This is where Youth Services of Tulsa (YST) makes a difference.
At the moment, YST has a Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) grant for our Street Outreach Program (SOP), but we are in the process of reapplying for a grant to help fund our Basic Center (our 24/7 emergency youth shelter) and our Transitional Living Program.
Our SOP center, The Station, sees an average of 45 homeless youth a day, five days a week, all year long. They come to The Station because they trust our staff. They drop in to get warm food, or find a space to take a nap. We have the only private showers in town for homeless youth. We have a clothing closet, filled to the rafters with donations from our community, where they can restock on the essentials. And at the end of the day, we can send them out the door with a packet of food and goods they need to survive another night.
Through The Station, we reach these youth and help them reconnect with the community. Take Daniel, for instance. He found himself homeless and fell into the patterns you often see in young people in these situations: substance abuse, mental health issues, encounters with the law. Our SOP staff got through to Daniel and encouraged him to see one of our counselors, who in turn helped him tackle his depression and anxiety.
From there, Daniel entered our Transitions program. With a roof over his head, his success accelerated. He took a job with T-Town Tacos (a social enterprise of YST) and continues to learn, grow and improve.
In 2016, 671 youth like Daniel accessed our drop-in center for basic needs, and 157 of them exited homelessness. This would not have been possible without RHYA funding.
Funds from the RHYA give us a base that we use to develop private donations from the community and local businesses, which ensures the dollars received from the RHYA have a greater impact. It has helped us create what we call a continuum of care – complementary programming in four areas: Runaway and Homeless Services, Counseling, Delinquency Prevention, and Youth Development.
We reach youth where they are, find out what they need, and set them on a path to independence. We track the data and continually refine what we do. The numbers show both the need for our services and the success we have in serving this vulnerable population.
In 2016, of the 59 youth participating in our Transitions program, 52 gained employment, and 95 percent of them maintained housing after completing our curriculum. More than 430 youth accessed help through our 24/7 emergency shelter, and stayed there for a cumulative 4,007 nights.
We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but there is much more to do, and many youth still do not receive the help and resources they need to overcome their hardships. The young people of Tulsa and the surrounding community need YST, and we need RHYA support to help them.