Modesto creates a countywide system of care for youth experiencing homelessness

Source: Western City
By: Edgar R. Garcia

Thanks to a strong public-private partnership, Modesto officials are giving the city’s most vulnerable youth the tools and services they need to avoid chronic homelessness. For years, the region’s youth homelessness crisis was made worse by a lack of coordinated services and shelter beds for youth. This led to many homeless individuals under the age of 24 becoming involved in the criminal justice system.

“By uniting the passions and commitment of our partners, community members, financial supporters, and staff, we [are creating] sustainable solutions that allow us to continue changing lives, building futures, and helping families,” said Cindy Duenas, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Human Services.”

Much of this optimism is due to a new navigation center and supportive housing project for homeless youth. Twenty-nine percent of navigation center clients have entered transitional housing, permanent housing, work programs, or rehabilitation facilities. Forty-three percent have accessed an on-site clinician and or participated in clinical groups, further reducing unsheltered homelessness and the strain on police, hospitals, and shelters.

Those programs and partnerships are helping lay the groundwork for even more services.

The effects of short-term youth homelessness
Even the trauma of short-term homelessness can have a major effect on a youth’s future development. Children who experience homelessness have significantly higher rates of emotional, behavioral, and health problems — both immediately and in the long term. This puts these youth at risk for substance use, suicide, and other negative outcomes. They may have numerous academic difficulties, including difficulty reading, learning, attending classes, and graduating.

According to the latest annual point-in-time count, there are 2,091 individuals experiencing homelessness in the county. Of those, about 65 were under 18, and 160 were between 18 and 24. Early intervention into youth homelessness is the first step in reducing the likelihood of chronic adult homelessness, as it mitigates many of the sources of trauma and creates a network of engagement and community to support success in housing and education.

A strong foundation
Like many successful homelessness service projects, Modesto’s story starts with a robust public-private partnership. The city and the Center for Human Services gathered feedback from youth, nonprofit service providers, and faith-based organizations to identify critical gaps in Stanislaus County’s regional system of care. The resulting partnership led to the creation of the youth navigation center and dedicated housing for youth experiencing homelessness.

The navigation center serves as a space to centralize existing services and develop new ones that provide a clear pathway to housing. This includes street outreach and engagement services, homelessness prevention services, on-site education, employment help, and coordinated entry and assessment, as well as crisis/drop-in shelter and transitional housing for various age groups.

Since opening in October 2021, the navigation center has offered 4,723 nights of shelter and served 10,281 meals. The outreach program continues to build partnerships with existing community outreach partners and has provided 248 drop-in services. The center also provides permanent housing opportunities designed for youth with diverse circumstances, with on-site education and employment services.

In 2022, the city and the Center for Human Services received $3.4 million in Homekey funding to convert an underutilized downtown commercial property into 14 permanent supportive housing units for youth. Each unit is fully furnished and includes a kitchenette, washer and dryer, and wireless internet.

For a household of one to qualify for a unit, a person cannot make more than $17,750 per year. Rent will not exceed 30% of each respective household income. Tenants receive supportive services and case management, including behavioral and physical health care, education, and employment services.

“The city of Modesto is so excited to have partnered with Center for Human Services for this project and successfully received state project Homekey funding to assist,” said Jessica Hill, the city’s community and economic development director. “The new permanent housing units for youth are essential in our partnership and goal of ending youth homelessness in our community.”

Building better health services
The Center for Human Services, the city, and local health care providers are also working on building an outpatient mental health facility through a $5 million state grant. The funding will allow the center to dramatically expand its mental health and substance use treatment services to an estimated 1,400 youth in Stanislaus County.

In addition to getting people off the streets, the downtown Homekey project has created a long-term partnership between the service providers, including the Stanislaus County Affordable Housing Corporation and the Stanislaus Regional Housing Authority. This will undoubtedly lead to new programs and services.

“There is no higher calling than taking care of our community’s most vulnerable and homeless children and youth are some of our most vulnerable,” said Modesto Mayor Sue Zwahlen. “This is another important milestone in our efforts to end homelessness here in Modesto.”