360 Youth Services Charity

Issue Feature: Painting a Picture of Hope - Transitional Housing Programs

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 HALFSTACK MAGAZINE

Desolate, lost and alone with no place to call home. Many of us could never understand the idea of not having access to the basic needs of life such as food and shelter. A roof over our head, a warm home to live in and a fridge filled with sustenance is what gets us through even the toughest of days. Imagine a life filled with uncertainty, misguidance and the feeling that you have nowhere to turn. Being homeless is not always a choice. People do not choose to be homeless, especially young people.

According to fortytonone.org, “The choice is made for them or is an alternative to abuse and neglect [. . . ] Youth homelessness is a national crisis. Each year, between 500,000 and 1.6 million youth in the U.S. are homeless or runaways. The statistics for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender homeless youth are even more shocking, as this group represents 20-40% of all homeless young people.”  Then there are those who suffer mental illness. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “20 to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness.”  The National Homeless Coalition explains that, “Serious mental illnesses disrupt people’s ability to carry out essential aspects of daily life, such as self-care and household management. Mental illnesses may also prevent people from forming and maintaining stable relationships or cause people to misinterpret others’ guidance and react irrationally. This often results in pushing away caregivers, family, and friends who may be the force keeping that person from becoming homeless.”

When one looks at the statistics, the numbers dealing with the LGBTQ youth becomes even more alarming. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth represent an estimated 3-5% of the total youth population. The fact that this group represents 20-40% of all homeless young people truly shows that these numbers are disproportionately high. The reality that many LGBTQ youth face is scary. At an age when they are most vulnerable the LGBTQ youth are, “more than 7 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than straight homeless youth”. At a time, when all they need is a helping hand and an act of kindness, the reality of the situation can be dark and sinister.

Yet, even dark circumstances can have a silver lining. There are many, not enough, but many organizations throughout the United States that have been created specifically to help these young people in need. 360 Youth Services developed a Transitional Housing Program in 2000, after seeing a need in the community, to help homeless youth in Dupage and the surrounding counties.  There are also so many survivors who have overcome the hardships of being homeless due to these types of organizations. One in particular, Kaileb-Colton Nunez, who is a resident at the Transitional Housing Program, shared a story of survival and strength with us.

The program is currently run by Debbie Carr, a woman on a mission to make a difference in the community around her. Deb started her career in the grocery industry, but after an eye opening injury, she found herself in the health industry and back in school working towards a career that was meaningful. At nearly 30 she made a tremendous move, but one that led her to the career she has found most fulfilling. She is the Residential Programs Director with an MS and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor. She took an opportunity at 360 Youth Services and what started as a clinical program in their original group home, has evolved into so much more over the last 14 years.

It was a dream come true for her to work on and help the organization implement the foundation to be approved for the funding from DHS.  What started with 4 youths has organically expanded to include a transitional housing program catering to young people 18-24, cornerstone group home for boys and a transitional housing program specifically developed for the LGBTQ homeless youth.

The youth homeless population is often seen as a hidden population, especially among the confines of the average suburban life. It’s not like you see many of these young people living under the bridge down the street from your home. That would make this reality much easier to fathom. Rather, many of these young people are “couch surfing” from one friend’s home to another. Yet, the economy has caused an alarming increase in the stats of youth that can’t even stay with a friend over the last five years. Family’s budgets have become strained and more and more kids have to take to the streets.

Many of the youth who are coming into these transitional programs are facing struggles on all fronts. It’s not just home drama, possible addictions, but even educational difficulties. Whether it be low reading comprehension or having dropped out of school, facing the world is even more difficult when you don’t have the basic life skills or education necessary to see success.

This is where 360’s THP comes into play. Not only is the organization helping to provide the basic needs necessary to live, but they are also preparing these young people with the life skills necessary to get them on the right track. The organization helps them learn to budget, obtain vital records, deal with court issues, gets them back in school, helps them with their GED and trains them on all things necessary to get jobs. Whether it be computer training, learning how to fill out a job application or putting together a resume, 360 offers these kids an opportunity to take life into their own hands and be held accountable for their future. 360 also works hand in hand with local organizations such as Loaves and Fishes (a local food bank based in Naperville, IL) to offer internships to transitional housing participants that help volunteers develop the soft skills and experience necessary in the work force.

The program also integrates mental health, a 7 challenges program and highlights a “harm reduction model” for a very specialized service that is geared towards adolescents. The staff is trained in a very specific curriculum that came about after the organization noticed a struggle with the more common 12-step programs.  This curriculum is centered on finding a solution rather than just eliminating the underlying problem. It explores the root of the issue and helps young people find ways to deal with these problems head on and find alternative solutions to make it through.

Kaileb is one of those young people who are just trying to make it through. Yet, surrounding Kaileb is this resonating air of strength. You can see Kaileb isn’t just a victim anymore. Rather, he’s a transgender youth who is a survivor and who is working to take life back into his own hands. When he opened up to us about his journey, he held back a bit, but the reality of his journey was evident in his bright eyes. The pain of acceptance shone through as well as the pride he has in his heart for the direction that he is taking his life in.

When asked what brought him into the program, he quietly described an experience that one too many teenagers face, a visit to the hospital due to suicidal thoughts. Yet, he explained that he now realizes asking for help was the best decision he could have made. Taking the steps towards realizing his reality and knowing he couldn’t handle it by himself brought him into the program. He was struggling, going back and forth between his mother’s home and his father’s home, not being accepted for who he was due to differences in opinions on how he should lead his life. He often took on the adult role, playing the parent to his younger siblings. He grew up fast, a tale that is all too typical of the young Latinos in the area. These experiences landed him without a place to call home. This is quite common among the LGBTQ youth that the program works with.

Kristen Cumbo, Program Manager, explains that this is the type of experience they must keep in mind. The team is, “looking outside of the box to be a different program and do away with traditional ideals that don’t work with the group. We don’t want to mimic systems that oppress the residents.” Rather they are all about creating a community of accountability that helps to create open lines of communication among the staff and residents.  With past work experience in welfare offices and a Masters in social work, Kristen understands oppression all too well. Which is why she is working so hard alongside Carolyn Waltskog to ensure that the program is developed with this in mind and constantly requests feedback from the residents. It’s because of the program management that the program is developing in a way that ensures its residents are being heard. Carolyn started her career at 360 Youth Services in the girls transitional housing program and has always yearned to work in a career that helped others.  It is only fitting that she helps manage a program that is giving young people a second chance. They help them learn to overcome obstacles they may face each day with grace. Whether it be learning to deal with curfews, going to therapy, being accountable for finances or mediating problems with roommates, the team helps these young people learn that they can do anything if they put their mind to it.

Today, life is painted beautiful shades of opportunity for Kaileb. He is going back to school in January, working for a local gas station and working on life skills that will help him to see continued success. He credits 360 Youth Services’ transitional housing program for giving him role models to look up to, an opportunity to be independent and pushing him outside of his comfort zone when it comes to learning new things.  When asked what kind of advice he would offer to someone who is facing similar life difficulties as he did in the past he explains that it is so important to learn to, “express your feelings to someone. Don’t keep it in. Ask for help because you can get so much farther than if you didn’t.”

Kaileb paints beautiful landscapes today to help express and channel his emotions. They truly showcase the raw emotions that are deep within his heart. Vibrant colors showcase a variety of feelings. Yet, most importantly they depict a picture of hope for young people like him in programs like 360’s transitional housing.

To learn more about how 360 Youth Services help click HERE.

If you liked this article, you can read more like it in our winter issue! Check it out in its full glory at: www.issuu.com/halfstackmag.

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