Christian “Cash” Beall knows firsthand the experience of being homeless.
The couch surfing. Food insecurity. The never-ending uncertainty.
“I lived through it and grew wise from struggle. I made mistakes along the way, but they lit the way to where I am today,” says Beall, who was hired by Bright Futures for Youth as the SAFE Program Manager in January. “This is the kind of experience I can share with clients. There have been several times where I met someone who had overcome something that I was struggling with, and they suggested an adjustment that changed everything for me.”
Beall hopes the SAFE Program and its growing staff make that life-changing connection with the young people experiencing homelessness in Nevada County.
“If you asked me a year ago if youth homelessness was a problem in our community, my answer would have been no,” says Beall, who has lived in the county for 15 years. “It is hard to believe that a beautiful place like this can have a dark side. We live in a rural area, so the problem looks different, it’s hidden.”
Bright Futures for Youth – and more specifically the SAFE program and a few other organizations – are working hard to identify and help youth in the community who are at risk of or are already homeless.
Many people have preconceived notions of homelessness. Dirty, sleeping outside, addicted, and mentally ill are images commonly associated with homelessness.
The definition, the stereotypes, must be reexamined. It’s not just people sleeping under a bridge or bypass. Quite often it is a student, coworker, or neighbor sleeping on a couch, a car, or in a shed. Sometimes it is families ‘doubled up’ in the same space. It can lead to negative impacts with their education, socialization and mental health. It can make someone feel like there is no place to be.
SAFE Program currently helping more than 60 young people experiencing some form of homelessness
It is a feeling that Beall knows well.
“I grew up in a rural community like this one and had to struggle to find a meaningful path in life,” says Beall who was born in New Hampshire. “I had to figure out what I wanted, and where I wanted to be.” Beall eventually moved from New England to California. He often found himself homeless and couch surfed through his early 20’s. “The experience was confusing and traumatic but helped me become a resilient person.”
Beall and the SAFE case managers are currently working one-on-one with more than 60 young people experiencing some form of homelessness. Their goal is to provide pathways to housing, food, employment, mental health counseling and health care to curb chronic homelessness.
“The young people I speak with are much better at asking for help than I was,” says Beall who notes a disparity in available services for youth under 18. “They know what they need, but they need help navigating the complex social service system. It can be overwhelming to play the game, and I want to help them understand what is happening.”
And Beall knows the game, and the challenges faced.
“I struggle with organizational and learning differences,” says Beall who graduated later in life from the California Institute of Integral Studies with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. “I finally chose to embrace and trust my unique way of learning and have a deep desire to support others.”
Beall and his wife, Melinda – a school librarian and seasonal Bright Futures for Youth staff member who helped with the organization’s Summer Day Camp – have two children, ages 12 and six. “I could not have made it through school without their understanding, love, and support.”
‘A space of refuge’
Now, Beall is committed to helping young people who are experiencing homelessness deal with their own challenges—and provide the support they need, whenever it’s needed.
Bright Futures for Youth’s soon-to-open drop-in center will offer numerous activities and life skills training and include access to a laundry room and showers. It will be a big step forward for the community.
“This will be a space of refuge, where young people of all backgrounds can come, be themselves, and choose how much or little they need,” says Beall who also works as a Crisis Counselor for the county.
He is hopeful that the drop-in center will pave the way to a proper shelter for unhoused youth under the age of 18 in Nevada County, eliminating the long drive to the closest youth shelter in Sacramento.
But Beall, who received his nickname “Cash” from friends while experiencing homelessness in the 90’s, is happy with the growth of the evolving SAFE Program.
“I think we can all remember being asked, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ This feels like the job I was talking about when I was trying to answer that question,” says Beall who added, “I am grateful to be here at the beginning.”