Seventeen-year-old Quinn tightly wraps her sweater around her shoulders as we talk. Clearly wary of a stranger’s round of questioning, she speaks softly as she tells her story. She’s been living at the LOFT (Living Options for Teens) in Bend for five months now. “I’ve been in and out of homeless shelters my whole life,” Quinn says, noting that she was with her mom and other family members during those times. But now, she’s on her own. Her mother and step-father brought her to Bend so they could live with family members, but there wasn’t room for them to stay. So the two headed for West Virginia, and left Quinn behind.
“No matter how hard it seems, you’ll get through.” –Quinn
The LOFT is a shelter program of Cascade Youth and Family Center (CYFC). There, youth receive housing and transitional living support for up to 24 months.
“Within 48 hours of arrival, an individualized service plan is put together for new residents, and soon after, the youth work with case managers to come up with their own ‘LOFT Goals,’” explains Project Director Mel Parker.
Completion of goals are celebrated during a graduation of sorts shortly after they are achieved.
Quinn had never experienced these kind of expectations and was hesitant when encouraged to apply for jobs. In fact, she didn’t really want to stay in school either. Yet LOFT staff worked out an internship at La Paw Animal Clinic that she couldn’t refuse. Success with the internship led to an interview and hiring at a Safeway Starbucks. And, she’s a high school senior this year planning to study architecture at a college in Portland.
Eighty percent of youth served by the LOFT and other transitional housing programs associated with CYFC are from Central Oregon. They have all experienced trauma of some sort—such as abuse by family members—or they’ve been trafficked (by definition, anytime a third party makes money off the use or viewing of another’s body). Thirty-two percent are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) youth whose families have ostracized them. Sometimes the whole family is homeless, but the youth needs CYFC-provided stability in order to stay in school. Sometimes a single mom can find a women’s shelter, but her teenage son isn’t allowed to stay with her.
Funding for CYFC programs—the only set of ‘continuum of care’ programs for homeless youth East of the Cascades—comes predominantly from Federal and State grants. The remainder is from individuals, businesses and foundations. Currently the emphasis is on obtaining funds to reinstate the Street Outreach program, crucial in keeping a child from spiraling downward.
“Kids don’t know that there is help,” says Amanda Gow, Community Programs Director. “The Outreach worker connects with youth where they land—the library, hospital, bus depot—and offers them an immediate path to safety and security.”
Cascade Youth and Family Center also operates a Host Home program for teens who need a more temporary housing option. These are homes in the community where a caring, non-judgmental adult provides a safe and stable environment for a teen between the ages of 13 and 17. Stays are up to 21 days and can be repeated, or a teen can be transitioned to the LOFT. CYFC provides 24-hour support for host homes and a case manager for the teen. The need for host homes is great—during the 2015-16 school year there were over 500 students in the Bend-La Pine School District who experienced homelessness at some point. Having a safe place to be that allows a student to continue attending school is critical.
“No matter how hard it seems, you’ll get through,” says Quinn, currently thriving in the safety and stability of the LOFT program.
She is well on her way.