Project Oz was established in the community in 1973, and has been the only agency in McLean County to serve runaway and homeless youth since 1985 with our Basic Center, SOP, TLP, and MGH programs. We are a team of passionate, caring individuals who have served thousands of youth during those years by offering street based outreach, emergency shelter for youth under 18, and housing for young adults ages 18-21 who are single, and/or pregnant and parenting. We are the only agency in the county that offers services specifically designed for youth and their needs.
There are 200 adult shelter beds in the community, but none of them will shelter youth ages 12-18, and youth over 18 are at a higher risk of being victimized while staying in an adult congregate shelter. The young people in our community would be at an even greater risk of poverty and vulnerability if it weren’t for the emergency housing services that are provided by RHYA funding. RHYA funding is the only funding that provides youth-focused intervention strategies and best practices, while maintaining positive outcomes for youth.
Located half-way between Chicago and St. Louis, Project Oz often encounters youth who have left the cities in hopes of finding safer opportunities, more affordable housing, and better employment. The Street Outreach Program offers the agency’s first contact with a young person by reaching them where they are staying; whether it’s on the streets, in the parks, or couch surfing. Project Oz has an established outreach team and is often recognized and welcomed by young people and adults as being an opportunity for assistance and a confidential person to talk with. We will offer even the basic of needs to any youth that we come across, by providing them with socks, snacks, personal hygiene products, and information for further services. Having that initial contact sets us up for further engagement, and oftentimes youth will return to us after several months because they remember the help they once received. The Street Outreach and TLP work concurrently, but without additional funding, an average of 180 young people every year cannot receive housing due to the limited TLP beds in our community. Still, Project Oz strives to offer every single young person that enters their doors with as much support and connection with other resources as possible.
The services that Project Oz offers through its Basic Center are often what a family needs in order to provide the best possible care for their child, without the state becoming involved. Because of funding through RHYA, Project Oz has seen countless families in crisis situations where a youth or family needed intervention and respite, and was able to receive both while engaging in restorative counseling. Project Oz prides itself on providing unparalleled services and a high rate of family reunification. In fact, 96% of youth under 18 who have entered into shelter through Project Oz, have been reunified with their family.
As part of TLP, scattered site housing provides a service unique to the community in that it helps prepare youth for independence by building a foundation for sustainable self-sufficiency. Brittany came to Project Oz after learning she was a few months pregnant and was living in a hostile situation. Brittany knew this wasn’t the environment she wanted to raise a child in but also knew her housing options were limited. While permanent subsidized housing in the area has a lengthy list, strict approval guidelines, and little to no ongoing case management for skill development, Brittany was determined to embrace the opportunity to obtain services through Project Oz.
After a few months of intense case management Brittany moved into an apartment and gave birth to her son. Brittany’s sight for goal setting didn’t stop there; she continued progressing by developing strong job skills and going from working part-time at two fast food restaurants to landing a full-time paraprofessional position at a local hospital, all while attending community college to complete her general education requirements. With financial support from Project Oz, Brittany also enrolled in a community education course and earned her certification as a Medical Office Assistant. Brittany continues completing her general education requirements at community college with hopes to someday transfer to a university and receive her Bachelor’s in Social Work.
Brittany has since become financially stable and maintains the same apartment she lived in during her time in TLP. Without RHYA and specifically Project Oz, it’s hard telling where Brittany and her son would be at this point, but because of her involvement with the agency, she is undoubtedly a success!