Homeless teens in Bay County face tough choices.
CORY Place, the sole youth homeless shelter in the county, closed in 2015. Good Samaritan Rescue Mission, the only other Bay County homeless shelter, is licensed only for families and adults. Those between ages 12 and 17 can’t stay at the shelter without a parent or guardian.
“Right now, they’re probably bouncing from couch to couch, going from friend to friend, family member to family member,” said Dan Streeter, CEO of the Good Samaritan Rescue Mission parent company, Rescue Ministries of Mid-Michigan. “They’re really at risk. That’s one of the struggles of youth. They’re going to do whatever they have to do to maintain sustainable housing. That puts them in extremely vulnerable situations.”
In February, that changes. Samaritan Youth Shelter, a 10-bed emergency shelter for unaccompanied youth between 12 and 17 years old, is under construction now inside Good Samaritan Rescue Mission, 713 Ninth St. Streeter expects it to open in February.
The need for a youth shelter is rapidly growing. In 2016, the Michigan Campaign to End Homelessness estimated 660 unaccompanied youth between under 18 were homeless in Michigan. The number rose to 698 in 2017 and to 711 in 2018. The campaign was created in 2015 after then-Gov. Rick Snyder issued an executive order to create an interagency council on homelessness. The campaign’s goal is to end homelessness in Michigan.
It’s difficult to determine the numbers in Bay County since there’s few services available and kids become homeless in a variety of ways. Streeter said 1 in 15 homeless youth have had one or both parents in jail. About 30% have experienced physical, social, or emotional abuse in their household. Some experience problems at home related to homosexuality or gender identity issues. Mental illness issues could have escalated, leaving teens feeling unsafe at home. Poverty drives some parents to consider teens independent at young ages.
Streeter said when CORY Place was open, it had 10 beds and was nearly always full.
“We’ve always been involved with the Bay County Continuum of Care and are pretty well aware of where the gaps are in community service,” Streeter said. “As we continued to see this gap, we came to realize this was something we needed to do.”
To answer the need, Rescue Ministries is renovating an area about 2,000 square feet near the main entrance. It includes 5 beds for girls and 5 for boys. The youth shelter is isolated from the rest of the rescue mission. “Any youth, it doesn’t matter what’s going on, can show up here. If they’re homeless, they’ve run away, whatever the reason, they can show up here,” Streeter said.
When it opens, 24-hour staff dedicated to serving youth will greet young people inside a locked vestibule. The vestibule includes a staff area as well as one door to a unit for boys and one door to a unit for girls. Each unit includes community space, a bathroom, and a group sleeping area. The open style maximizes the space and improves safety.
The staff will have 24 hours to assess each situation and determine if the youth shelter is the right place. If it is the right place, kids can stay for up to 21 days while staff identify needed services. What happens next depends on what the child needs.
The shelter is waiting now on Department of Health and Human Services licensing. That license can’t be issued until construction is complete and the facility inspected, Streeter said.
In the meantime, Rescue Ministries is raising money for the shelter. Rescue Ministries of Mid-Michigan adopted its 2020 Vision campaign in March 2018. It includes the Samaritan Youth Shelter as well as a project to find permanent housing for City Rescue Mission clients in Saginaw and to improve the quality of life for residents of Community Village, an assisted living home for seniors.
So far, Streeter says about $425,000 has been raised toward the $600,000 goal for the Samaritan Youth Shelter. Renovations began in September. The Bay Area Community Foundation gave $50,000 for the project. Other foundations, local businesses, and individuals raised the rest. Streeter praised local donors for funding the program now.
“It definitely is a testament not only to this area and the people of their area, but to their belief in the work we’ve been doing for the last 15 years,” Streeter said. “They know we’re here for the best interest of those who are struggling the most and need the most help.”
The money raised so far should cover construction and furnishings. The rest of the money is earmarked to operate the shelter for two years. Streeter hopes the additional funding is in place when construction finishes so the shelter can open. Eventually, he hopes to secure state funding for the shelter. First, though, he needs to get the shelter open and begin documenting the need for services.
“Basically, if a teen is struggling, they can get off the street, come here, get to a safe spot, and then we can start to work and find out what’s going on,” Streeter said.
To help, donate money, goods, or services to the Rescue Mission. Details about what is needed are posted online.