Wind Youth Services drop-in center for homeless youth closes
Operators look for new home in Midtown, downtown Sacramento
The only drop-in center for homeless youth in the Sacramento region has closed, for real this time, but for a good reason, say its operators.
The center operated by Wind Youth Services in north Sacramento shut its doors on May 19, so more accessible environs can be sought, said executive director Suzi Dotson. “We’re sort of off the beaten path of where the youths hang out,” she told SN&R.
That doesn’t mean the center wasn’t getting visitors, just not the kind it was intended for. While Wind’s website says the center averages about 45 unique visits a day, Dotson and development director Sarah Mullins said only 10 to 15 of those visits were from Wind’s target population—homeless or extremely low-income youth between the ages of 12 and 24.
The rest were older individuals the center wasn’t funded to serve, they said. Dotson and Mullins said they were in the process of updating the website to include “more current information.”
Dotson said she anticipates reopening the drop-in center at a different location by August, if not sooner. “We’ve already got our board members working on it,” she said.
No new site has yet been identified, but Mullins said the hope is to resettle closer to where homeless young people congregate.
That search is encompassing Midtown, downtown and just beyond, including an area where Broadway merges with Old Sacramento, and also along Richards Boulevard. Mullins said they’re also looking for buildings that are near light-rail stations and transit stops.
In the meantime, Wind is taking to the streets, with youth advocates and nurses rotating between four locations during the week, armed with sack lunches, hygiene kits and “spot-triage” medical care.
“It’s proving to be, at this point, a better situation,” Mullins said. “We’re bringing [services] to them rather than making them come to us.”
The teams are already reaching larger numbers than the shuttered drop-in center. Mullins said the teams are seeing between 25 and 30 homeless youth a day. She expected those numbers to rise “once our schedule is a little more known within the homeless youth on the streets.”
As of now, the only thing that street outreach can’t provide is showers, so Wind is dispatching a weekly shuttle for any youths who are interested in traveling to a residential location where they can clean up. More intensive casework is being offered at Wind’s administration office on Howe Avenue, while significant medical issues are referred out.
As for the old drop-in center building, which Wind owns free and clear, Mullins said the board is considering various options on what to do with it, including possibly renting it to a partner organization. “It’s such a great space,” she said.
Not everyone was happy with the decision to relocate the center, which provided showers, laundry facilities, food boxes, water and other supplies, as well as individualized case management and medical advocacy, according to Wind’s website.
Woodlake resident Karen Solberg said she worked at the drop-in center for approximately 18 months, until she was dismissed in April. She was assigned through a federally funded AARP program that places unemployed seniors at nonprofits and government organizations across the country. The part-time employees are paid through AARP to learn new job skills, while the nonprofits get some no-cost help.
The placements aren’t open-ended, said a local AARP director, and participants are supposed to “dilligently” look for full-time work while in the program. Dotson said she was told to transition two longtime AARP staffers out of the center when she came on as executive director in January. “AARP actually pushed us to do that,” she said.
Solberg said another AARP member was let go because of their race and accused Wind of closing the drop-in center for financial reasons. “Now that they have government money,” Solberg said, Wind wants to focus exclusively on sheltering homeless youths in return for financial reimbursement.
Solberg was referring to a potential contract between Wind and the Sacramento County Probation Department, first reported in SN&R (see “Avoiding juvie” SN&R Beats, May 22). The agreement would direct approximately $107,000 to Wind in exchange for sheltering juveniles who would otherwise be detained at probation’s youth-detention facility, a.k.a. juvenile hall. But part of that funding would also keep the Wind center open for longer hours, Mullins said. “We see the center as the core of what we do,” she added, rejecting Solberg’s claim that Wind was retreating from that mission.
Last week, Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale heralded the developing partnership as a way to divert at-risk children from the juvenile-justice system.
In 2013, Wind lost a $540,000 three-year federal grant it’s put into operating its center for years.
Wind says an estimated 1,700 homeless youth live in the Sacramento region.