By: Katie Sobiech
“Who is going to be there for me?” “Will I need to stay at a homeless shelter?” “Where will I go for the holidays?”….
These are just some of the many questions young adults ages 18 and over are asking themselves as they age out of the foster care system and enter the “real world”. The real world may include starting college, getting a job, staying at a homeless shelter, or calling the streets home. Each case is different.
However, the need for young adult housing in Akron is great.
On Their Own
Safe Landing Youth Shelter, a temporary-stay residential facility, offers a home-like atmosphere for troubled youth, 11 years and older, who are in crisis, dealing with family problems or other issues. Their goal is to provide immediate assistance to both the child and family. Along with short–term residential care they offer drop-in counseling, a 24-hour telephone hotline and assistance in finding alternative housing arrangements when necessary. Safe Landing’s two shelters are the only crisis shelters in Summit County. They serve up to 700 kids a year, seeing 6-8 kids a week at each shelter on average. One shelter is for boys, the other for girls.
“We see a lot of kids who are getting to be 18 and parents are either kicking them out or their done with foster care, and even if the Children Services Board wants to provide services, these young people don’t want anything to do with it,” Hollie Ashworth, Outreach Coordinator at Safe Landing Youth Shelters, explained “They are going out into the world but don’t have the skills to take care of themselves, get jobs, pay for housing and various things.”
Most of these young adults don’t have families or a support system to fall back on.
“Many of the youths in foster care are older, they are in High School,” Sandy DeLuca, Home Finding Recruiter of Summit County Children’s Services said, “They are looking at turning 18 and wondering ‘When I turn 18 who is going to be there for me?”
Ashworth says most of the youth are between 18 and 22 years old.
Several of the youth Ashworth knows of stayed at a homeless shelter but found it to be a very intimidating experience.
“As wonderful as these shelters are, and as great of services as they provide, there are mostly adults staying there.”
One young man called Ashworth from a local homeless shelter saying, “There are drug addicts here and they’re encouraging me to do drugs and trying to steal my clothes.”
She also explained, “You’re showering with 30 other men, many adult men with addiction problems and/or mental health issues. So I think that the transitional housing piece for youth is important and I know the government has funds for it and there are people in the community that are starting to get some housing options available.”
One woman who has successfully begun a transitional program for girls called P.A.L. Mission in Canton is highly recommended by Ashworth.
“She was a social worker for 20 years and saw the great need,” Ashworth said.
Aging out of Foster Care
In order to try to solve this dilemma of the youth transition from foster care into society the Youth Emancipation Task Force also meets. This group includes individuals from the Summit County Children’s Services Board, Community Support Services, legal agencies that are responsibly for the kids and other adults in the community.
“They are coming together saying ‘We have this problem in our county of kids aging out of the foster care system and we need to come up with something’,” Ashworth said.
Sue Pierson, Director of InfoLine, as well as Helen Tomic, Akron’s City Planner, who are both on the Board of the Continuum of Care, are also working hard to provide funds for those looking to provide legitimate shelter for youth.
Horizon House and H.M. Life Opportunity Services are also involved.
Safe Landing Shelters
Though young adult housing is on the radar and being worked on in our city, fortunately there are safe places for children to stay who are under 18.
“We’re not designed to be long-term foster care for kids to live forever,” Ashworth said, “If there is an immediate problem going on in the home we want to help them solve that problem and get them back home peacefully.”
They have two counselors at both shelters and parents and children are required to get counseling to work through their issues.
Each child can stay for a maximum of 15 days, due to regulations by the Ohio Department of Health and Human Services grant program, which funds both shelters.
If a child needs help following their stay, they do provide after-care services which allow the child to come back for a certain period of time and touch base with their counselor.
If they feel a child is in danger they will get them to an agency or foster care center.
“We are very structured and have programs,” Ashworth said, “We want to teach the kids good living routines.”
Along with counseling the children are required to go to school. If they are expelled or not enrolled the staff will work with them during the day on some school programming. After school they provide tutoring through the Akron Public School’s Project Rise program.
Dinner starts at five, followed by free time and “Group”. Group includes a special speaker who gives a talk on anything from diet and nutrition to the importance of reading.
Current Trends and Issues
As of right now Ashworth says they are seeing a huge amount of neglect in families.
“We’re seeing families who are not having the time to raise their kids appropriately. Kids are living in pretty neglectful environments – not getting medical attention or dental care, there’s no emphasis on school or to put effort towards learning,” Ashworth said.
“So we have a lot of kids who are pretty undisciplined, they haven’t learned to follow rules, whether or not that’s because there are a lot of single parents who are overwhelmed, working two jobs to support the family, or sometimes there’s a drug or alcohol addiction with parents – that doesn’t work well when you’re trying to raise kids. That’s a huge problem that we’re seeing,” she continued.
Other than taking calls for children from parents or schools, Safe Landing works with the Children Services board and Juvenile court.
“We will foster kids here who are moving between foster homes, waiting for placement, or stepping down from a residential treatment center,” Ashworth said, “We also have kids here from Juvenile Court who the court thinks a structured place might help.”
Why It Works
“I think part of the reason that we’ve done well is that we’ve really been supported by the community,” Ashworth said, “I have a group of real stable volunteers who have been here for thirteen or more years that come every week and spend time with these kids. Other organizations provide for us as well.”
They just recently got funded by several organizations to build a new multi-purpose room, build a garage for their van and to keep the buildings, property and activities up.
For more information on Safe Landing please contact: 330.630.5600 or visit http://www.sheltercareinc.org