San Francisco Homeless Project sets sights on help for young people

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- ABC7 is joining nearly 30 media organizations for the San Francisco Homeless Project to raise awareness about the issue and find solutions to homelessness.

We told you in another report why so many homeless youth come to San Francisco. They're seeking refuge and acceptance. But when they arrive, many struggle to find a way out of homelessness. There is currently no shelter or clearing house to steer them in the right direction. And as we found out, the need is great.

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There is currently no shelter or clearing house to steer them in the right direction -- the need for that is great.

How does someone end up homeless at 18?

"Well for many factors, for myself, it was a family of 8 with a single mom who couldn't support everyone," said Bella Black, who came to San Francisco from Bakersfield, Calif. "You didn't know where you were going to go. You didn't know where was the safe place, and you don't know who is going to do what."

She received housing thanks to the help of Larkin Street Youth Services -- one of a handful of organizations in the city that specifically work with homeless young adults under 25.

"Throughout the city we have a number of different housing programs to be able to help young people stabilize, be in housing, to work on whatever their goals and plans are, ideally being able to launch them back into independence," said Larkin Street Youth Services' Executive Director Sherilyn Adams.

Adams says young adults need more individual attention than older adults. "We have literally thousands of young people who need safety and sanctuary and they need a navigation center," Adams told ABC7 News.

The city has built three navigation centers or clearing houses for homeless people. These centers get them connected to services, and eventually into housing.

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Another center will open soon and two more are planned. Young adults may use the centers but none are specifically for them.

The centers have proven to be very successful with 79 percent of people who enter ending up in stable housing.

The Haight District is where many young adults end up -- sleeping on the streets or in nearby Golden Gate Park.

"There's a lot of them. And there's nowhere to like drop in, or sit down, or relax or get case management," said Christian Calinsky of the nonprofit Taking It To The Streets.

The organization puts kids to work cleaning the streets and finds them housing. He said the areas only late-night drop-in center closed three years ago.

"Its closing was a tragedy," Calinsky added.

For 12 years, The Homeless Youth Alliance called the Haight Street building home.

"We had food and clothing and showers and bathrooms and offices to meet with people privately," said Mary Howe of the Homeless Youth Alliance.

A rent increase made the place unaffordable and they've been looking for a new home ever since.

"It's not that they don't exist, it's just that landlords aren't willing to rent to people who work with people who are poor," Howe told ABC7 News.

That has proved true for navigation centers as well.

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"It all sounds like a good idea to everybody, but they just don't want it here," Calinsky said.

"The next navigation center should be for young people," said San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who has been pushing for more money to be spent on homeless youth services.

"We need to look for the best site -- I mean we need 25,000 square feet," said Jeff Kositsky of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. "And it needs to be in a place that is accessible to public transportation, and that's going to make sense for the youth."

The mayor's point man on homelessness says a navigation center for young people is in the works, but he won't say where or when it might open. "We're currently looking for a site for that, and we're also working with young people through our planning process right now and what's going to work, what's not going to work."

In the meantime, young adults like Black will have to navigate their way on their own. "Being homeless is not fun," she said.

Click here for more stories by ABC7 in connection with the San Francisco Homeless Project and click here to learn more about the group's efforts to raise awareness.
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