The concept of homelessness is often associated with large cities, and with the adult population. However, what doesn't often come to mind is homeless youth, of which there are an estimated 990 living in the North Shore. In 2007, Lynnfield resident Pat Campbell and board President and founder Andrew Acampora were part of a group looking to assist these homeless youths.
"The original concept was rooms upstairs for kids to stay," Campbell said, "with desks and chairs downstairs for classes." However, Campbell explained that once the group began conducting research, a different concept developed.
A Strong Start
In April 2010 Journeys of Hope, a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization, opened with the goal to fill a gap that was missing in terms of assistance for the 18-23 year old homeless population. Their mission was to provide a place where young adults could come for emergency assistance, referrals, identification, support and more. The founding group felt what this population truly needed were the resources to help them transition from homelessness to a steady and secure future. In just the short time they have been open, Journeys of Hope has assisted 215 young adults on the North Shore.
Journeys of Hope was originally based in Lynn, but it has since transitioned to The First Universalist Church at 211 Bridge Street in Salem. The new location is ideal, as it is right across from the railroad station, making it very accessible, as well as easy for the people the day program helps to access a variety of places for job interviews. Additionally, as in Lynn, Journeys of Hope has easy access to the Department of Children and Families, Social Services, a local community health center and other services that the group refers young adults to.
A Low Pressure Environment
The staff at Journeys of Hope strives to create a low-pressure environment by meeting homeless young adults where they are. Some youths will come in looking for something specific, while some will come in and hang out a few times before revealing much to the staff. However, the staff lets these youths ask for help on their own timeline. "The kids may be distrustful," Campbell, who serves on the Journeys of Hope Board of Directors, explained, "some have been bounced from foster home to foster home. It's important for them to build trust with the staff and allow us to help them.
Once the youth is more comfortable, the staff begins to assess his or her needs. Many homeless young adults need medical attention, counseling, additional education and much more. One youth who came into the program was unable to read beyond a fourth grade level. Journeys of Hope got him a tutor, and he learned to read and got his G.E.D. "His perseverance was amazing," Hauck, the Interim Executive Director at Journeys of Hope, said, "it is hard to believe that someone who had been through what he had still had that resilience to work towards his goals."
Hauck and Campbell stress that their goal is to assist youths so they can make it on their own. Journeys of Hope has a clinician on staff who has a degree in Social Work and Education. One-on-one supportive counseling can be provided right on site in order to provide assessment for further clinical services. Additionally, each youth can work with a case manager who after assessing their needs, can help them apply for housing, understand their own legal rights, apply for benefit programs, take necessary steps to complete an education and much more.
"Community support is critical," said Hauck, "we rely heavily on donations and grants. Currently we're looking to have additional staff so kids don't have to think about what days we are open before coming in." At this time, Journeys of Hope is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Tuesday was just recently added. They are hoping to be open for a fourth day by March.
"Once people hear what we do, they really show they care about this population," said Campbell. "Many will donate gift cards which helps with immediate needs and incentives for youths to attend workshops." Gift cards and Charlie Cards are among the greatest needs of Journeys of Hope, because it provides them and the youths they serve with the means to prepare and get to job interviews, an integral part of helping the youths get off the streets and into steady housing.
Additionally, working closely with programs like the Salem Community Charter School, the Essex District Attorney's Office and Lifebridge shelter helps to create an entire system of support for these struggling young adults. Among these groups, each can refer youths to one another, helping them address all their needs.
"We have an amazingly committed board with many talents," said Hauck, "Pat has done an amazing job of reaching out within the Lynnfield community and letting people know what we are trying to do and we are very grateful for the strong support from the community." Within Lynnfield, there has been a very successful event at the 99 restaurant, fundraising by making food for a summer concert on the commons, gift card donations from the Centre Club and a community group donation from the Lynnfield Rotary Club.
A Unique Population
Many of homeless young adults do not even realize they are homeless. They are able to couch surf frequently, living for short periods with various friends or relatives. However, it doesn't change the reality that they have no permanent home or steady lifestyle. "These youths are at a higher risk for substance abuse, pregnancy and other risky behaviors," Hauck said, "they end up coming into contact with people who take advantage of them. At Journeys of Hope they come to trust the workers and we can slowly unwind and help to address their underlying issues."
Youths come to find themselves without a home for a variety of reasons. Some have just been released from the foster system, others come from unsafe home situations, are dealing with family members struggling with substance abuse issues or are young adults who are rejected due to their sexual orientation. Many of them want independence, but they are not prepared for it, and Journeys of Hope works to prepare them for it. "They need help with basic life skills, with budgeting, finances, with how to take care of themselves in a medical emergency," Campbell said.
Moving forward Journeys of Hope plans to increase their outreach. "Every school has someone working with the homeless," Hauck explained, "we want to work with schools to provide additional outreach services."
Part of this outreach will be going to where the group anticipates these youths are staying and helping to spread the word verbally about their program. Additionally, continuing to create and foster relationships with other programs serving youths in the area. One of the biggest sources of struggling youths comes from a strong partnership with the Essex County's District Attorney's office. Ruth Budelman, who works in the Juvenile Justice Department, is a strong advocate for this population and frequently sends youths to Journeys of Hope, explained Hauck.
Journeys of Hope will continue to rely on community support. Those interested in helping out can donate time, money, gift cards, or items. For more information, visit their website at http://www.johma.org. or by phone at 978-500-7478.