Homeless teens

Work begins on Chico shelter

LINKING UP<br>Founders of the Links shelter for homeless teens include (left to right) Arias Harrington, Nancy Jorth, Megan Barber and Cindy McDermott.

Founders of the Links shelter for homeless teens include (left to right) Arias Harrington, Nancy Jorth, Megan Barber and Cindy McDermott.

Photo By Emanuella Orr

Arias “Jay” Harrington was a child of the streets. He grew up in Paradise but for a variety of reasons frequently ran away from home. He was one of those kids you sometimes see in downtown Chico, loitering on the sidewalk.

Although 17, technically still a minor, Harrington speaks with the knowledge of an adult who had to learn things the hard way. He is back living at home, but he knows what it’s like to be homeless.

Now Harrington has the chance to help other kids in the same situation. He is acting as a consultant for Nancy Jorth, from the group Youth for Change, who is setting up Butte County’s first teen homeless shelter, now called Links (the name will change before the center opens this fall). It will be open from noon to 8 p.m. daily.

The shelter will be on Sixth Street between Broadway and Main in Chico. Based on The Wind Shelter in Sacramento, it will operate something like a youth hostel, where teens can get off the streets and get cleaned up. There will be laundry and shower facilities in addition to e-mail terminals and other social services. The downtown facility will not provide overnight shelter on site, however. It will be a drop-in center only, where teens can arrange for overnight shelter at a confidential location.

There will be a tutor to help students enroll in college or get their GED. There will be a full-time employment specialist who will help young adults find jobs, get training, write resumes and practice interviewing. And Public Health will be there so that kids can get health care and counseling for drug addiction.

In addition, counselors will work with the teens so that they can deal with whatever it was that made them runaways in the first place. The goal will be for kids either to be able to move back in with their families or find homes of their own.

Links is funded via Proposition 63, which puts a 1 percent tax on people with incomes greater than $1 million, and is currently in the hiring phase. Jorth is receiving guidance from Harrington and Megan Kelly Barber, 21, who both do youth outreach in Butte County. Barber also has worked for the HERE program (Homeless Emergency Runaway Effort) since she was 17.

These two have their fingers on the pulse of their generation and know exactly what is needed in a teen homeless shelter, since both of them have been runaways in the past.

“It really is directed by youth,” Jorth said of Links.

Part of the program’s appeal is that it is not part of “the system,” which has jaded many of the youth who survive it. However, Links will act as a networking program where young people who want help will be able to find it.

Existing shelters in Butte County take only homeless who are 18 or older. Links will offer ancillary services to people 18 to 24, but its housing will be only for kids 17 and younger—filling a big void.

According to tallies by the School Ties Program, which is run by the Butte County Office of Education, 303 “accompanied youth” and 107 “unaccompanied youth” in the county were homeless for at least some time during the 2006-07 school year. (An “accompanied youth” is a student who is still with a legal guardian at the time, while an “unaccompanied youth” is on his or her own.)

These are conservative numbers, said Meagan Meloy, program coordinator for the School Ties Program. The actual number of homeless kids is much higher. Some teens hit the streets, Barber said, because “being homeless is a better option than being at home.”