Due to circumstances like neglect, abuse, family conflict and substance abuse, many teenagers are being forced out of their homes. Roughly 50,000 youth in the U.S. call the streets “home,” according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
The United Church Home Society (UCHS) is addressing this growing number by expanding its housing and health care services to reach homeless young people.
Founded in 1877, UCHS is the second oldest nonprofit provider of housing and health care in western New York. After being approached by homeless support providers in search of help, the organization spent the past three years working with the community and researching the needs of abused, runaway and homeless youth in its community.
UCHS is now committed to empowering young men to develop independent, healthy paths by offering them guidance through positive lifestyle choices. The program helps teens avoid situations like chronic homelessness and long-term dependency on social services.
In February, UCHS opened the Plymouth Crossroads Transitional Residential Program in Lancaster, N.Y., offering homeless men aged 16 to 20 a haven and a chance for a better future.
“In addition to shelter, food and clothing, Plymouth Crossroads offers support for education, job training and placement and life skills support at no cost to the youth,” says United Church Home Society Director of Development Carol Halter. “The goal is to give the youth the tools they need to become self-supportive.”
Qualified staff members provide full-time care in this eight-bed voluntary residence. The average length of stay for residents will vary with each individual, but will range from six to 18 months.
“Transitional housing plays a vital role in housing for homeless youth,” says CEO Casimier Czamara. “There is a 70 percent success rate in moving residents from transitional housing programs to permanent housing.”
Program Director Jennifer Thorpe works closely with the organization’s five current residents. “There are no two days alike,” she says. “We do at least one workshop relating to life skills daily. Our residents have access to two full-time case managers. There are individual service plans done soon after intake and revised and updated at least every 30 days.”
Thorpe and the case managers have been working diligently with two 17-year-old residents to help them graduate from high school. “What was once said to be ‘impossible’ is now being referred to by their principals as ‘entirely possible, at this rate,’” Thorpe says. "We are currently working on the college application process with both of them.”
The program’s first resident came to Plymouth Crossroads from a nearby 30-day emergency shelter. He now refers to his support system at Plymouth as his only “family.” Staff members are working tirelessly to get the 17-year-old enrolled in high school.
According to Thorpe, the program’s 19-year-old resident arrived from a “code blue” at the City Mission, referring to emergency homeless support that takes effect when temperatures in Buffalo reach below 10 degrees. “He was able to get and begin a new job this week. He is also researching colleges and planning to save money for an apartment.”
The organization offers what turns out to be a real home with a surrogate family, Thorpe says. “Within the first three weeks of accepting our first resident, we had one sprained ankle, one corneal abrasion, three family Save visits, three dentist appointments, four haircuts, five doctor appointment, 11 counseling appointments, 17 groups, 25 school pickups and drop-offs and of course countless one-on-ones," she says. "And there simply is no value or number that can be placed on providing a safe, positive home for these young men.”