Helping homeless youth

One local woman shares her story of self-sufficiency, thanks to local drop-in center for youth

Crystal Patterson is one example of how the 6th Street Center for Youth helps young people out of homelessness.

Crystal Patterson is one example of how the 6th Street Center for Youth helps young people out of homelessness.

Photo by Ernesto Rivera

Art Under the Awning:
The 6th Street Center for Youth (130 W. Sixth St.) will be holding its biggest annual fundraiser on Oct. 1 at 5 p.m. Cost: $20, includes a barbecue dinner

Crystal Patterson first left her Chico home when she was 14, after years of abuse in her family. She spent the next two years crashing at different friend’s houses, but eventually wore out her welcome. With no couch left to sleep on, she officially became homeless.

Patterson spent her days downtown and around City Plaza and her nights sleeping at Chico State or in Bidwell Park. The hardest part, she said, was the uncertainty she faced every day.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be eating a certain night or where I was going to go,” she said. “During the weekend, some shelters were closed or they had really strict hours and I couldn’t always make it.”

Eventually, through other homeless people she met, Patterson started going to the 6th Street Center for Youth, a local drop-in center catering to young people ages 14-24. It’d take six months, however, for her to be comfortable enough with the staff and environment to take full advantage of the center’s services.

“I was very paranoid,” she said. “I didn’t know if they would report me or if they were trustworthy. It just didn’t seem real that you were able to get food, shower, brush your teeth, and get clean clothes without something in return.”

Those feelings faded as Patterson started talking to the staff members and saw their dedication and compassion.

“They were so welcoming,” she said. “They … let me build trust with them without pushing it. Seeing the way the staff interacted with other homeless youth is what convinced me. They genuinely care about what’s happening to the homeless population and want to help.”

Because of the center, Patterson went from spending days at City Plaza and nights at Bidwell Park to working two jobs, going to school full time and having a home she shares with her 3-year-old daughter.

The center’s staff helped to get her into a transitional housing program, gave her guidance and encouragement, and even hired her as an outreach specialist to tell her story to other young people in the area and let them know that the center is there to support them.

“If it wasn’t for the center, I know for a fact that I would not be in Chico,” said Patterson, who’s now 22. “I would be an alcoholic; I would probably be addicted to some kind of drug because that’s where my life was heading.”

The 6th Street Center opened in 2008 and aims to help youth who are homeless, marginally housed or runaways transition to a healthy, independent adult lifestyle. The center prides itself on providing a safe environment and making its youth feel valued and capable.

Success stories like Patterson’s are why the center is holding its second annual Art Under the Awning fundraiser this weekend. It will feature live music, a silent art auction with works by local artists including youth at the center, food and more.

Proceeds from the event will go directly to supporting services, which range from basic needs like food, showers and laundry to intensive services like counseling and life skills classes. The program helps more than 300 homeless youths and young adults each year.

Jennifer Barzey, program manager at the center, said the event is an opportunity for the community to see what the center does, meet some of the youth, take a tour, and ask questions.

“We rely so heavily on community support to keep these services going,” Barzey said. “We have hundreds of homeless youth in our community; that’s a community issue. It’s a really powerful thing to see people come out and support what’s going on here. It also means a lot to the young people we serve who often feel alienated or isolated from the larger community.”

To people at the center, keeping services available for the youth is an important solution to addressing the issue of homelessness.

“It’s a window of opportunity to impact lives now so that someone isn’t entering to long-term adult homelessness later,” Barzey said. “This is the time to act.”