Through its Avenida program, Youth Alliance set a goal in May of housing 100 youth in 100 days and is seeing slow but steady success.
“We are in the midst of this 100-day challenge,” Youth Alliance Community Outreach Specialist Armando Gonzalez said. “We are coming onto day 70 with about 22-23 people that we have been able to help out.”
While the program may seem short of the goal at the moment, it is actually running on schedule. Gonzalez said that local schools have helped identify over 60 more students who will be brought into the program over the next few weeks.
Referrals are also being made through other service organizations. Deputy Director of Programs Jose Martinez-Saldana said, “We also know of other youth in need through talking with services like the local homeless shelter and the Community FoodBank.”
Youth Alliance is a community service organization that works with youth and families in San Benito and Santa Clara counties, providing after-school, late-night, and summer programs, bilingual counseling, and intervention programs for at-risk youth.
The focus of the Avenida program, though, is on offering assistance to homeless youth under 25 to help them with their immediate needs.
“We work with other community resources,” said Gonzalez. “We can help with things like rental deposit assistance, a food voucher program, a hotel voucher program for emergencies, and we have started running life skills groups. They can learn how to do things like apply for a license and build a resume, as well as take part in mock job interviews.”
Once in the program, Gonzalez works with clients on a case by case basis to provide safe housing through shelter referrals, as well as therapy and counseling, workshops and support groups.
Daniel Villegas, who found both an apartment and a job through the program, is one of the program’s success stories.
“Daniel was the first youth who joined the program that we were able to help,” Gonzalez said. “I try to meet with him once or twice a week to check in to see how things are going and what kind of assistance he needs. If there is something he needs help with, we can work with him through our resources or ask for assistance through some of those community resources we are linked to.”
Villegas, 21, had set a goal of getting out of the shelter he was in when COVID-19 removed his options and forced him to stay. A visit to Whole Person Care, a San Benito County Behavioral Health program next door to the Youth Authority office, was an important turning point.
“The people at Whole Person Care told me about this program,” said Villegas, who credits getting quick rental assistance as the most significant benefit he got from the program. “I got really interested in it and went for it. I was in the shelter since 2018 and I am finally out. I don’t want to go back to it—I want to stay where I am.”
While being homeless presents its own set of challenges, not having a fixed address creates problems for potential employers and landlords. As such, according to Martinez-Saldana, one of the biggest obstacles to breaking free of homelessness is the perception of homelessness itself.
“There are a lot of dynamics that come into play,” Martinez-Saldana said. “Admitting to or letting other people know that you are struggling can be a shameful situation for individuals and might keep you from asking for help. And if you are applying for a position and you cannot write down an address where they can contact you, there is a question as to whether you are stable enough for the job.”
Finding permanent housing is more difficult. Gonzalez said that on any given day he calls five to 10 places hoping to find an open apartment or room for rent and a willing landlord.
“Sometimes it just comes down to someone in a group we are connected to calling and saying ‘we have a landlord that is really open to working with you,’” Gonzalez said. “There are several big tools like that I can use to help my clients.”
Being able to get a client their own place is critical to the success of the 100-day challenge, Martinez-Saldana said. “Part of the flexibility we have is the ability to assist youth with a rental deposit. Getting that deposit is the biggest obstacle. If you don’t have any money, how do you get that deposit and first month’s rent? Like everything else, it just comes down to money, dollars and cents.”
With the goal being to provide a home, a job, and a fresh start, Youth Alliance and the Avenida program work to give homeless youth a future they never expected.
“With the help I got, it has all been a blessing for me,” Villegas said. “It is a new life for me and I want to keep moving forward.”
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