Bright News

Bright Futures for Youth’s SAFE program awarded $937,000 grant to help children and young adults experiencing homelessness

Grant and community donations will help address fast-growing challenge in Nevada County

Bright Futures for Youth’s SAFE program has received a $937,000 state grant to expand outreach and case management efforts for youth experiencing homelessness, an increasing and often hard-to-see problem in Nevada County. 

The three-year grant through Elevate Youth California – a project of The Center at Sierra Health Foundation under contract with the California Department of Health Care Services – is the largest ever for Bright Futures for Youth.

The funds help the SAFE program to add a drop-in center for youth at risk of experiencing homelessness, establish more comprehensive services, and – most importantly – hire several staff members.

“The grant greatly benefits our efforts and ensures that we continue our mission of finding youth experiencing homelessness and help them overcome numerous challenges,” said Jennifer Singer, Executive Director of Bright Futures for Youth. SAFE Program Director Aurora Packard has been busy developing and expanding the much-needed program, while also working one-on-one with over 60 youth experiencing homelessness – about four times more than a “best practice” caseload of 10 to 15 for this highly vulnerable group. The grant allows Bright Futures for Youth to hire a program manager, case manager, and two youth drop-in center staff for the SAFE program, which is available for youth experiencing homelessness.

State grant combined with community donations pack a powerful one-two punch on fighting youth homelessness in the community

Donations from individuals, small-business owners and service organizations in the community continue to be greatly needed to help cover the costs for everything from providing food for the commercial kitchen that serves hot meals to more than 150 youth every weekday to purchasing supplies, such as furniture and paint, for the planned NEO youth center.

“It’s critical that we all work together to make the youth center a vibrant and exciting place to be,” said Singer, who has been meeting with potential donors and organizations in recent months to raise funding for the drop-in center – and Bright Futures for Youth overall.

Bright Futures for Youth started the SAFE (Stability, Access, Foundation and Empowerment) program in 2019. The still-evolving pilot program is committed to finding and helping children and young adults faced with housing insecurity in the community.

When SAFE started, the goal was to connect with 12 young people (under 25 years old) per year, ensuring they have clothing, food, health care, counseling and other necessities. SAFE has easily exceeded that figure and is helping more than 60 young people today – and has served nearly 100 youth and families faced with housing instability during the past three years.

“Clearly, there is a desperate need for the SAFE program in the community, and we have worked very hard to connect with youth who are often marginalized and overlooked,” Singer said. “Many children and young adults experiencing homelessness are also struggling with trauma that affects their mental and physical health, and their financial stability.”

SAFE is more than just housing, it also helps teach youth how to ‘become more self-sufficient’

SAFE helps children and young adults at risk of and/or 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. SAFE also assists them to apply for college, financial aid or even navigate the often-confusing process of obtaining much-needed documents like their birth certificate or Social Security card.

“The SAFE program is about helping them today with their most immediate needs, but also teaching them how to become more self-sufficient tomorrow, from being able to find a job to attending college,” Packard said. “Homelessness is often a generational challenge, and we are committed to breaking that cycle of experience, giving youth the tools to build a better and more financially stable future for generations to come.”

Some youth helped by SAFE may also participate in Bright Futures for Youth’s other programs – The Friendship Club and NEO. SAFE staff members work closely with other community organizations, from Nevada County Health and Human Services to Nevada County Superintendent of Schools.

Youth walking through woods

1 in 30 students in Nevada County face housing instability

County school officials estimate about one student for every elementary and high school classroom in western Nevada County was experiencing homelessness in the county in 2018, the latest figure available. The figure is likely higher today, especially with the challenges created from the COVID pandemic.

Also, finding youth experiencing homelessness is difficult in Nevada County, where small cities are surrounded by nature, compared to Sacramento and other large cities in the state. Youth experiencing homelessness are couch surfing with family members or friends, sleeping in a vehicle or, the worst-case scenario, living on the street or in a tent on public or private land.

The grant will help newly hired staff to find and connect with those youth in the community. The Elevate Youth California grant is funded by revenue from Proposition 64, which legalized adult non-medical use of cannabis in California.

“Elevate Youth California prioritizes youth leadership and invests in healing and community growth,” said Chet P. Hewitt, President and CEO of Sierra Health and The Center. “Our new partners will work directly with youth to improve the environment of communities impacted by the War on Drugs, which has led to inequity in our health systems and the criminalization of youth in low-income communities and communities of color. California’s youth are talented, capable and ready for this investment.”