A working model

Day-center proponents can learn a lot from the 6th Street Center for Youth

Jennifer Barzey, the program manager at the 6th Street Center for Youth.

Jennifer Barzey, the program manager at the 6th Street Center for Youth.

Photo By ken smith

Check it out:
The 6th Street Center for Youth is holding an open house from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday (Nov. 14-15), with an ongoing art exhibit and tours of the facilities. On Thursday, a number of people who use the center will present real-life stories, poetry and music.

Efforts to remove the homeless and transient presence from downtown Chico have thus far included the private sector’s hiring of armed security and city leaders’ approval of the sit/lie ordinance, but homeless advocates believe there are better solutions. High on a list of priorities is a local day center, where adults can find services and shelter during times of the day these needs aren’t otherwise provided.

And Chico is home to a working model: the 6th Street Center for Youth.

Founded five years ago, the center provides meal service, showers, laundry facilities, basic hygiene items and other resources to homeless and runaway youths, ages 14 to 24, on weekdays between 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. It also employs social workers to help this population obtain counseling, housing, employment and connection to other services.

During a recent interview, Jennifer Barzey, the youth center’s program manager, offered some insight on what an adult day center might look like, as well as some perspective on recent developments from the disenfranchised young people she and the 6th Street Center staff serve.

Barzey said she and others who founded the nonprofit looked to other working models for basic ideas, including Sacramento’s Wind Youth Services and San Francisco’s Larkin Street Youth Services. But even with well-laid plans, the center remains a work in progress.

“The model has definitely changed over the years,” Barzey said. “In the beginning, it was a drop-in center, just a safe place for people to come and be; but we’ve adopted more structure over time.”

She explained that young people can now visit the 6th Street Center for up to two weeks before deciding to become a member, meaning they can continue using the center if they agree to work with a case worker (of their choosing) to identify and work toward goals, such as finding a home or employment.

“We had to create a structure where there are some incentives and some expectations to ensure the right things are happening,” she said, noting that last year the center helped 25 to 30 young people get off the street and into housing, and about 20 to find jobs.

“We’ve been able to connect with a large number of youth that wouldn’t utilize any other services initially, that are considered in a class of service-resistant,” she continued. “We’ve created an environment and a culture at 6th Street that makes them comfortable to come in and get to know us. … People with huge trust issues who had a hard time coming through the door have been able to form a relationship with a caring adult here, which leads them to be able to access other services and become contributing members of society.”

As for how she feels about the idea of an adult day center, Barzey offered: “I see something like that as a piece of the solution. I don’t think it’s the only thing that needs to happen, but it’s a piece of the puzzle that could serve some needs for some folks.”

She said the youths she works with have expressed fears they will be unduly targeted by newly hired private security and the new sit/lie ordinance, but applauded the Chico Police Department for deploying bike officers downtown, emphasizing the importance of active outreach programs (“Perhaps the money being used for the armed guards could be better used toward programs like that,” she said).

“There are leaders within each and every community, including the homeless community, and building some bridges with those people is a good way to go about it,” Barzey said when asked what’s missing from ongoing community discussion. “We need people who want to be part of the solution to feel included.”