Exploited, abused Bay Area youth find security at Dreamcatcher Youth Center

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- ABC7 Stars recognizes local people doing extraordinary things.

The kids who come to Dreamcatcher Youth Center haven't had easy lives.

Many have been abused, sexually exploited or grew up in homes without enough food. But they do have Dwayne Chenevert.

"They need to know who's in charge," said Chenevert with a laugh, He's the shelter coordinator. "And they need to know that it's a structured program. And then to that, that all their basic needs will be taken care of."

Chenevert helped launch Dreamcatcher more than sixteen years ago. It's the only youth shelter in Alameda County.

"Family is really important because a lot of times when kids come in, they come in to find out we're kind of like a missing piece that they, that they lacked at home," he explained.

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The shelter has eight beds and a drop-in center, where teens can do laundry, eat a free dinner or simply relax in a safe place. It also provides health services, job support, therapy and legal help.

"So, when they arrive here, we have a youth that's been traumatized. The longer they've been out on the streets, the more they've been exploited in many different ways," explained Amba Johnson, the shelter director.

And that means they often have a tough time trusting adults. But in this house, it's different.

"They trust Dwayne when they don't trust anyone else," explained one person.

After nearly 5 years of struggling to secure grants and permits, Dreamcatcher is about a month away from opening its new facility next door.

Right now, more than 100 teens sleep there each year and another 300 to 400 use the drop-in center.

In the new shelter, they hope to double the number of kids they can help.

The space may be changing, but the goal is not. They'll continue to provide stability and structure -- a stepping stone for kids who've lost their way.

"Dreamcatcher is my calling. This is something I'm passionate about because I know I can... I know that I can help the youth. And the youth know that they can come on and depend on me," said Chenevert.

To learn about about Dreamcathcer Youth Center, click here.

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