Bright News

SAFE: A grassroots program that helps hundreds of young people experiencing homelessness in Nevada County continues to grow

Two women in the SAFE Drop-in Center and food
Bright Futures for Youth’s SAFE (Stability, Access, Foundation and Empowerment) program has assisted more than 200 young people experiencing homelessness since starting in 2019. The program helps clients receive much-needed help, from securing housing to ensuring access to clothing, food, health care, counseling and other services. The SAFE program also opened the SAFE Drop-in Center about a year ago, allowing young people access to a range of services and necessities along with a safe place to stay for a few hours during the day.

Homelessness among children and young adults is a fast-growing but often hard-to-identify issue in Nevada County.

More young people are couch-surfing with family members or friends, crashing in hotels, sleeping in a vehicle, or maybe even staying in a shed or trailer without electricity or plumbing – not just living on the street, the all-too common sign of someone struggling with housing insecurity.

Bright Futures for Youth’s SAFE (Stability, Access, Foundation and Empowerment) program is committed to finding and helping children and young adults experiencing homelessness in Nevada County.

The first-of-its-kind program in the community has assisted more than 200 young people since starting in 2019. 

And the demand continues to increase, as young people – and many others – are faced with numerous challenges, from housing costs to an uncertain economy.

Today, SAFE actively manages about 60 clients and provides basic needs and support for another 50 young people. Another 10 to 15 young people are referred to the SAFE program every month.

Data detail the need. But we should never forget that behind every figure is a young person struggling to survive. 

Some are attending high school during the day and looking for a safe place to sleep every night. Others are escaping a bad family situation. A few are pregnant teens desperate for help.

Whatever the challenge, the SAFE program staff is available. The seven-member team helps in numerous ways, from finding housing to ensuring they have access to clothing, food, health care and counseling.

The most basic immediate needs are the most important, but usually just the beginning. 

“Many youth experiencing homelessness have various traumas and experiences, and we offer timely support,” said Jennifer Singer, Executive Director of Bright Futures for Youth.

Focused on ‘progressive, positive outcomes’

And time is critical. Half of adults experiencing homelessness were children faced with housing instability. 

So, SAFE provides immediate assistance, but also gives youth experiencing homelessness the tools to build a more stable future. 

SAFE refers clients experiencing homelessness to CalFresh and MediCal, drug and alcohol treatment programs and parenting resources. We even find bus passes, because getting around is another huge hurdle for many of those faced with housing instability.

SAFE also works with young people to obtain critical documents, such as their birth certificate, a state identification card, or even a Social Security number. Quite often when young people lose their home, they lose access to these documents, if they even had them in the first place.

These are cumbersome and time-consuming tasks. But every step builds a better – and more secure – path forward.

“It is often some small accomplishment or realization that fuels true success for them,” said Christian “Cash” Beall, SAFE Program Manager. “Graduating from high school, obtaining a (drivers’) license, becoming employed, connecting with a therapist or something as simple as learning how to do laundry can shift a client’s perspective and steer them towards progressive, positive outcomes.”

And that is the goal of SAFE, a grassroots program that started with few funds and supporters – but a ton of need. 

“It’s taken time to build awareness and understanding of this unique challenge,” Singer said of youth experiencing homelessness. “The community is starting to take notice and see the importance of investing and supporting youth homelessness to stave off chronic homelessness.”

More community members, from individuals to small-business owners, are donating to the program, recognizing the importance of providing safe housing for residents, regardless of their age or situation.

“Homelessness is a communitywide challenge,” Singer said. “Our efforts and the generosity of our supporters are making a difference in the lives of young people experiencing homelessness. The more young people we can help, the better for our community, financially and for the health of residents.”

The SAFE program has also received a $937,000 state grant from The Center at Sierra Foundation to expand outreach and case management efforts for youth experiencing homelessness. 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 – and grants from the County of Nevada allowed the SAFE program to open the Drop-in Center, establish more comprehensive programs, and hire several staff members.

‘Born out of need, driven by heart and dedication’

With the community support and the grant, the SAFE program has been able to open a Drop-in Center that provides a range of free services, from clothing and grab-and-go food to ensuring access to health care services and counseling. SAFE has also participated in a far-reaching effort with the Nevada County Continuum of Care, youth and other community partners to conduct a point-in-time count to determine how many young people are experiencing homelessness in Nevada County.

And, more recently, SAFE has started renting three homes that provide much-needed housing for young people. 

The houses are “one of the greatest success stories of this program to date,” Beall said. “Born out of need, driven by heart and dedication, these houses represent a valuable space to learn and grow. They provide a safe, stable and understanding base for clients to gain the independent living skills that will be important to their futures.”

The SAFE program will look for additional houses and other opportunities to meet the needs of youth experiencing homelessness.

But, as always, the next efforts and expansion of the program depend on donations and ongoing support. Every dollar, every donation makes a difference in the fight against homelessness in Nevada County.

“It would be a tragedy if the SAFE program had to shut down … and the result would be catastrophic for the young people of Nevada County,” Beall said. “The SAFE program is the only option for many local youth to access vital resources needed to recover from their housing crisis.”