Scattered Wind

Homeless youth org’s never-ending turbulence is what can happen when businesses run City Hall

On October 11, Wind Youth Services executive director Suzi Dotson announced she was stepping down. Her farewell email didn’t include a reason, but I have my theories.

Wind is the only nonprofit providing shelter and drop-in services to unaccompanied homeless youth in five counties. It offers a crucial lifeline to a critically underserved population. And yet it’s long had trouble surviving one day to the next. A near funding collapse in 2013. Frequent moves. A canceled contract when city staff objected to a Wind employee participating in the Right to Rest protest. Wind’s epic—but mostly behind-the-scenes—battles with City Hall should serve as an example to any do-gooder working with marginalized individuals. If you fight for the people and not the privileged, there’ll be trouble.

Dotson was often pulled into battles between apoplectic merchants, finger-wagging politicians and her own staff. She had an impossible task: keeping a financially strapped nonprofit afloat, being a stern advocate for her clients and appeasing those who simply don’t want to see homeless youth in public. Even though she’s not talking (Dotson hasn’t responded to a request for comment), I can imagine all this took its toll.

Before ending her four-plus-year tenure, Dotson allowed Goodwill Sacramento Valley & Northern Nevada to absorb Wind, which has garnered mixed reviews from homeless youth advocates around the state capital. Goodwill, which facilitated the move of Wind’s drop-in center out of downtown to a building it owns in Oak Park, likes to get along with the powers that be. That’s not always good for those who lack power.

In her farewell message, Dotson said she and the board developed a succession plan where she’ll train her replacement over the next three months. Wind’s new director will be Robynne Rose-Haymer, a former deputy director of Next Move Homeless Services, which is also overseen by Goodwill. Funny how that worked out.