Youth Shelters was established in 1980 by local residents concerned that children and young people in crisis and needing shelter had no alternative but to be taken to a juvenile detention facility. They were often escaping abusive or volatile home situations and were being punished when they needed support and a safe haven. People came together and opened La Otra Puerta-the other door-Emergency Youth Shelter next to the juvenile detention center. This safe and nurturing alternative served children ages 10—16 for up to 30 days. Youth Shelters worked to reunite kids with their families whenever possible, or helped them find other safe, stable, caring environments. Over the years the Emergency Shelter occupied a number of places, finally moving into a newly constructed building at 5686A Agua Fria Street in 2003.
In 1990, the Casa Libertad Transitional Living Program was established, offering a residential setting for youth ages 16-21 who were unable to live at home. The program teaches life skills for independent living, such as finding a job and managing money. The Transitional Living Program serves kids for whom nothing else has worked–kids who’ve been homeless for long periods of time, who’ve been in foster care or who’ve been in the criminal justice system and some who are Pregnant or Parenting teens. We celebrated the expansion of a new campus, housing 14 youth, at 4435 Airport Road in April 2010.
A community needs assessment in 1995 found there were hundreds of homeless young people living in Santa Fe, often without adequate food or clothing, and frequently subject to illness and abuse. Youth Shelters began outreach to street kids by distributing sandwiches, clothing, tents, sleeping bags, hygiene items, and resource information. The Street Outreach Program, as it came to be called, grew rapidly, with YS staff and volunteers going out into the streets on foot and cruising around Santa Fe in a renovated RV. Then in 2000, the program opened its Resource Center on Guadalupe Street, providing a place for homeless and street youth to get a meal, take a shower, do laundry, or call home. Due to changes in funding the Guadalupe Resource Center was closed in the fall of 2006. The City of Santa Fe temporarily provided space inside the Fort Marcy Park complex for the Street Outreach Program. In 2008, the Outreach Center found its current home at 402 St. Francis Drive, near Agua Fria. Staff are available for individual goal planning and case management, such as referrals for healthcare. Since establishing this location, the program has seen the number of youth served double and contact numbers tripled!
In 1996, YS and another Santa Fe-based agency, the Family Institute, began exploring a possible merger; the merger would provide a seamless continuum of services to young people and families in need. After months of study and discussions, the two groups joined forces, adding counseling, treatment foster care, and juvenile community corrections into the YS fold. Today, counseling services are still a significant component of YS programs. Located at 5686 Agua Fria (next to the Shelter), the Counseling Center has been offering free professional community-based counseling to youth and their families ever since.
Today, there are also focused initiatives. The Pregnant and Parenting Youth Initiative was launched in 2006 to address a growing incidence of homeless pregnant and parenting teens. In 2008, Bilingual Service Coordination was started to serve monolingual Spanish speakers. The Workforce Education Initiative, begun in 2011, provides G.E.D. preparation and job skills training to homeless youth so they can obtain skills for lifetime success. Youth Shelters is now a designated distance learning site through Santa Fe Community College. In 2011, the newest program, Civic Justice Corps, was launched to provide new beginnings for youth recently involved in the juvenile justice system. This includes education and job opportunities as well as community service.
Over the past 32 years, Youth Shelters has now served more than 29,500 youth and families and grown into a multifaceted agency with a budget of $1.7 million!
Thank you to all the community organizations, businesses, donors, and volunteers that help make these life-changing services available to youth!