Sacramento’s only homeless shelter for adolescent youth forced to close

Wind Youth Services’ sudden program suspension catches city, county officials by surprise

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For more than a week, Peter Bell worked the phone lines, trying to get the last of his kids into a home. Bell runs Wind Youth Services’ six-bed emergency shelter for homeless adolescents—the only one of its kind in the five-county Sacramento region.

At least, he did.

Citing a running deficit in the high-five digits, Wind indefinitely suspended its shelter operations last Friday.

“I think this will be felt and reverberate for a while,” Bell told SN&R.

Before its closure, the shelter, which serves homeless youths between the ages of 12 and 17, typically operated at full capacity and with a waiting list, though not as long as the one for Wind’s other emergency shelter for the 18-to-24 homeless bloc.

Bell says adolescents often arrived needing respite services from tumultuous homes, referred by school counselors and homeless liaisons working to triage their situations. Over the past two years, the shelter hosted nearly 200 of these adolescents and teens, says Wind Executive Director Suzi Dotson.

It hasn’t been cheap.

“For too long, Wind has had to bear the burden of running Sacramento’s only adolescent shelter program,” Dotson wrote in an emailed statement to SN&R. “At this time the service of the shelter will be suspended and the youth will be directed to other partners throughout Sacramento as appropriate.”

In follow-up text messages, Dotson said the goal is to reopen the shelter “ASAP,” though that will take more financial support than Wind is accustomed to receiving. The shelter program’s annual cost is $325,000, she said. Wind applies $198,000 from an annual federal grant and another $40,000 a year from the Sacramento County Probation Department, which rented out beds as an alternative to holding some kids in juvenile hall.

Wind relied on community donations to fill in the rest, Dotson says, but averaged an annual shortfall that sat between $75,000 and $85,000.

That deficit eventually overtook the provider. And by all accounts, it happened rather suddenly.

On Monday, city and county officials were surprised to hear of the shelter’s closure three days prior.

“This is the first I had heard this,” said Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, echoing the words of several others, including Emily Halcon, the city of Sacramento’s homeless services coordinator. “I am actually in contact with Suzi to work on getting WIND some funding and expand their program,” Kennedy added by email.

Specifically, he says he’s trying to find resources to start a local Safe Place program under Wind, which would partner with schools, fire stations, libraries, YMCAs and private businesses so that youth in crisis can “access immediate help wherever they are.”

Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale was one of the few officials who did know of the closure, and expressed regret at losing a valuable partner, at least temporarily. “I hope that they will be able to resume their operations,” he said.

City and county officials were reluctant to pledge any specific support barring more details. City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby and Chief Deputy County Executive Paul Lake both told SN&R they were trying to reach Dotson or her board to discuss the nature of the shortfall and what could be done to address it.

Meanwhile, Bell was spending the day trying to find the last of his displaced youths a temporary home. The local high school senior was a few months away from graduating high school, after which he planned to enlist in the military.

“I’m trying to find the least disruptive option for him,” Bell said.

One of the people he called for help was Oak Park resident Laura Goldstein. She and her husband hosted two transgender teenagers experiencing homelessness for a few weeks last year, but weren’t available this time. “They say he’s a kid with a great chance of success,” she told SN&R.

The couple relocated from Chicago, where homelessness isn’t as bad, or at least not as visible, Goldstein says. “There’s nothing in Chicago like I’ve seen here,” she said. “Here I was just really struck by the number of youth sleeping in doorways, walking the streets, trying to keep body and mind together.”

There’s likely to be more of them now.