The entire story was published in The Union on January 27, 2022.
A state grant, almost $1 million, will help stop youth from falling through the cracks.
Local youth nonprofit Bright Futures for Youth announced this week that it secured a $937,000 grant from The Center at Sierra Health Foundation. The money will primarily be used for a program dedicated to finding and helping children and young adults faced with housing insecurity in the community.
SAFE, which stands for Stability, Access, Foundation, and Empowerment, is a program under Bright Futures for Youth which has operated since 2019, according to a news release, and funds from the grant will go toward the establishment of a drop-in center as well as the hiring of several staff members.
“By and large, this promotes and supports staffing,” said Bright Futures for Youth Executive Director Jennifer Singer on the grant. “This is a high needs population, and we need more case management support of those youth to ensure that none of them are falling through the cracks.” Singer explained that, while the program began with the intent of supporting 12 youth per year through a cohort-based model, it has since grown in scope, adjusting to reflect the diverse needs and experiences of the youth, who include school-aged children as well as young adults. SAFE currently helps almost 50 young people, according to the release, and has served more than 80 youth and families over the last three years.
“SAFE helps children and young adults experiencing homelessness to access basic services — including food, health care and housing — and apply for government programs, such as Medi-Cal and the CalFresh program,” stated the release. “SAFE also assists them to apply for college or trade school, financial aid or even navigate the often confusing process of obtaining much needed documents like their birth certificate or Social Security card.”
While the program is largely referral-based, connecting to youth through liaisons with area schools, Singer explained that the program has now served so many local youth that they have connected it with others they know are having similar experiences.
“So, there’s a certain degree of peer referral or self-referral that’s beginning to happen as well,” said Singer.
“This is going to increase our capacity to serve the ever growing and often unknown and unnoticed population of runaway and homeless youth in Nevada County,” said SAFE program director Aurora Packard on the grant.
The funds will allow the program to hire case managers as well as a program manager, said Packard.
The program includes a drop-in center, which would operate in conjunction with a planned NEO youth center in Grass Valley, Packard said.
“This space will provide some case management opportunities, a place for kids to sign up for services, get support with those basic needs like getting an ID and getting a birth certificate — and all of those things that parents would typically help with, but these youth don’t have any of those sorts of supports,” she added.
Additionally, the drop-in center would give these youth a place for practical needs such as showering and doing laundry, as well as providing a “pro-social environment” for learning life skills and preparing to continue their education or job training.
Packard emphasized that youth experiencing homelessness in the area are under-counted, noting that the program receives calls daily from people with some connection to it who have become aware of another young person in need of its services.
She stated that Nevada County is not one of the 21 counties in the state which have “full scope services for homeless and runaway youth,” but that Bright Futures for Youth is “on the brink of that.” The organization maintains a connection to federal and state partners, she explained, and although it does not have federal funding at this time, it’s learned about existing gaps in service and is moving toward the models that are in use elsewhere in the state and country.
“I would say that it’s really important to recognize that this is a significant and growing need,” said Packard. “There will always be more need for staffing, and that’s something that’s often not funded, so community support is critical.”
Victoria Penate is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com