By: Katie Sobiech
Nearly two hundred calls for help are made each month to the Safe Landings Youth Shelter, a 24 hour youth emergency shelter in Akron. Many times it is due to conflicts between children and parents, or abuse within the home, resulting in the children seeing no other option but to leave.
Teens will often call the facility seeking help, or be brought in by a police officer at night, after being found wandering the streets.
Thankfully, many of them reach out to Shelter Care – but if it were not for this organization, where would they go?
The idea of providing a shelter for neglected and abused youth in Akron all began in 1972 when Dave Fair, a licensed clinical counselor on staff at The Chapel, and probation officer at the juvenile home, was approached by Judge William P. Kannel to start a program for youths that were in need.
Seeing that many of the kids came from poor, dysfunctional homes and did not have a place to stay, the Chapel loaned Fair two homes across the street from their building to begin what is now known as Shelter Care.
Over thirty five years later this organization has grown from its original two homes, to eight homes, as well as adding the Safe Landings Youth Shelter in 1978, and The Highlands in 2005.
Reasons for Shelter
Most of the youth are referred to Shelter Care by three main child agencies, including the Summit County Children Services Board, Summit County Juvenile Court, and Child Guidance and Family Solutions.
To enter the Shelter Care home a child must be referred. For Safe Landings they often come from off the street, or as the result of a phone call made by parents.
The majority of youths that call the emergency hotline have been abused or neglected in some way, often physically and/or sexually. “Typically they’ve been severely neglected, some found roaming the streets at night,” said Wesley Fair, the Executive Director at Shelter Care, and son of its founder, Dave Fair.
Along with the cases of abuse and neglect, Fair notices that many of the problems stem from the children not having any guidance or structure in their lives.
As a result of that, they have “A trail of issues,” explained Fair, “they’re behind in school, they get in trouble with the law, experiment with and use drugs and alcohol, and get pregnant – they are very promiscuous.”
Calls made to the Safe Landings Youth Shelter often come from youth who are suicidal, depressed, and/or considering leaving home due to conflicts with their parents.
The staff notices several things when the kids start the program. “We have to teach them hygiene,” Fair said, “because they will sleep in their clothes and wear them to school the next day. They don’t shower and they have major dental issues. We try to teach them independent living skills because they can’t hold jobs, they’re low functioning, don’t complete school and have to try to get a GED.”
The kids get sick a lot too.
“What they really need is a healthy and safe family environment where there is adequate structure and accountability. And they need counseling and direction,” Fair said.
The kids who aren’t in safe environments often put themselves in risky situations, sometimes leading to self destruction unless there is intervention.
And the hope of Shelter Care is to intervene. They not only provide emergency shelter 24 hours a day, but have eight residential homes (four for boys, four for girls), and The Highlands, a teen pregnancy shelter.
It also helps when there is a parent to work with, but most parents do not want to get involved out a fear of being “exposed”.
On the other hand, some parents don’t mind allowing their child to be a part of the program because it is a relief for them to get their misbehaving child out of the house and into someone else’s hands.
Conflicts within the home can get very intense. “Some of the youth are abusive back to their parents, and they’ll steal their money and cars,” Fair said.
Providing counseling so that the youth can address their issues such as anger, conflicts with parents, relationships, and school makes a big difference in the teen’s ability to react better in situations.
Changes…for the Better
Over 750 youths are served each year in residence at Safe Landings. All of the schools and police departments in Summit County know of them.
So, are the programs really working?
“Absolutely,” Fair said, “In a lot of ways that’s what keeps us going. A lot of the time they’ll drop by and we’ll hear success stories.”
There have been some major changes in many lives because of this program.
“Once the kids enter the program they start to grow, they get in better shape, and even start completing their homework,” Fair said.
Many of the kids even start getting involved in sports, band, and get tutoring.
“Some kids really thrive after having time in a safe and healthy environment,” Fair said.
One girl who came from an abusive family has been with the program for almost six years. She is now Student Council President, an honor roll student, and planning to attend college in the fall.
Visions for the Future
As for their visions for the future, Fair explained that they are now developing a foster care network so that they can find more good homes for the youths to live in. “It completes our program,” he said.
The developing program is actively recruiting foster parents for those who are interested, but is important that the parents are Christians. “The majority of our staff is evangelical Christian. The whole reason we’re here is to minister to kids and families,” Fair said.
They are also considering expanding the teen pregnancy home. Many of the girls are getting kicked out of their homes because their families are not dealing well with the pregnancies of their daughters.
If they see a need they will build more homes, but right now they feel content and that they have the right number to provide a quality shelter home that meets the youth’s needs.