The Union Features TFC’s New SAFE Program

The kids stand a chance: The Friendship Club acquires $100,000 grant to aid homeless youth in the county

Sam Corey
Staff Writer 

In 1995, Nevada County’s youth were facing steep challenges.

Women, particularly, were dealing with teen pregnancy and incarceration, said Jennifer Singer.

The now-executive director of the Friendship Club was, at the time, just beginning her career helping youth.

Today, she is doing more of the same, as her organization received a $100,000 grant for a new program to prevent and mitigate youth homelessness.

The money was awarded through the Homeless Emergency Aid Program, which was in turn distributed to the Homeless Resource Council of the Sierras, said Mike Dent, director of Nevada County Housing and Child Support Services. The council provided $100,000 of a $1 million pot to The Friendship Club.

Dent said the council was required to put 5% of the funding toward the issue of homeless youth in the county. It put 10%.

The funding is meant to halt a trend.

“We’re trying to prevent them from becoming chronically homeless,” said Cheryl Rubin, director of development and communications at the club.

An estimated 172 high school students in Nevada County were homeless in 2018 — a 36% increase compared to 2014, according to an email from The Friendship Club citing numbers from the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. The problem is statewide. Of 129,972 Californians experiencing homelessness in 2018, 12,396 were unaccompanied young adults from the ages of 18 to 24, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

In Nevada County, the club will be aiding 22 boys and girls with the funding, said Rubin. Although the organization hasn’t explicitly worked with homeless youth, they often aid girls in a similarly precarious situation.

PLAN OF ACTION

The new funding helped propel the Homeless Youth Career Technical Education Pilot Program, which, in addition to helping stabilize youth who are dealing with issues of trauma and drug addiction, is leveraging county career technical education programs to help young people get jobs.

“We’re not re-creating the wheel,” said Singer. “We’re trying to tap into what’s going on and connect.”

Singer, who has been working on achieving this grant for the past year, began the pilot program last summer, aiding girls who were cycling through homelessness.

Hospitality House will also be collaborating with The Friendship Club, providing a 12-week culinary training program and a six-week retail training program in addition to emergency shelter support, said Ashley Quadros, development director for the Hospitality House.

BREAKING THE CYCLE

The program’s funding is meant to help county officials and nonprofit leaders stem the rising tide of youth homelessness.

As Singer said, in past years The Friendship Club has been referred 25 girls for its program. Now it gets around 51. The executive director said many of the problems arise from a cycle of generational poverty, which has recently manifested in depression and anxiety. Singer said she is trying to get a mental health counselor operating on their site.

While the problem of homelessness is real and rising, said Mike Dent, the county’s definition of homelessness is broader than that of the federal government. Additionally, he said, county, state and federal officials are more aware of the problem.

“There’s a lot more attention toward the elements of a child,” said Dent.

Singer agreed more attention is being paid to uncovering and solving the issue.

“This is a very hidden problem,” said Singer, referring to homeless youth who are couch surfing or staying at friends’ homes. “It’s a problem we’re just starting to uncover.”

At the state level, California recently decided to expand its Earned Income Tax Credit, giving a young child tax credit of $1,000 to households with a child under the age of six. The tax credit was meant to help pay for childcare and combat poverty.

Dent was pleased with California’s decision, and hopes the governor sticks to his plan to resolve a shortage of housing plaguing the state.

“The big push from Governor Newsom is affordable housing,” said Dent. “We need to build more units.”

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at scorey@theunion.com.

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