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A Place to Call Home 

The region's youngest homeless get a bed and a plan for a new life

Affordable housing continues to be a major issue plaguing many cities in Oregon. Whether it's through no-fault evictions, rent increases—or, in the case of the area's young people—conflicts within the home, Central Oregon's less-than-1-percent vacancy rate for rental housing can mean difficult times for some of the area's youngest homeless, who typically don't have high-paying jobs of their own.

Citing figures provided by Bend-La Pine Schools, the Director of Community Programs at J Bar J Youth Services, Amanda Gow, says approximately 800 homeless kids live in Central Oregon. One estimate is that Oregon has up to 24,000 unaccompanied homeless youth, the fifth-highest rate in the nation. While the need is often greater than the available resources, J Bar J Youth Services is the state's largest outreach program for young people, providing six different programs for youth who lack adequate parental support.

Cascade Youth & Family Center, Safe Families for Children, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the flagship J Bar J Boys Ranch are some of the programs that Gow helps direct. The organization also offers a street outreach program to locate and serve kids who have no options for safe, warm shelter.

A Temporary Home for Youth

The Cascade Youth & Family Center on SW Century Drive provides short-term living accommodations for kids who need a safe shelter while making transitions in their lives. The Center has 18 beds for youth up to 21 years old, but according to Gow, typically serves those in the 16 to 19 age range.

In addition to sleeping quarters, there's a full service kitchen, a great room for gathering and interaction, laundry facilities and more. Staying in the shelter means a highly structured regimen for the kids. As well as learning life skills, kids are tasked with regular chores including cleaning and cooking and participating in a community service project. Each youth also works on goals and designs a plan for the next steps in their lives. "No kid comes into this program with the same issues, background and challenges," Gow says.

There is a 6 pm curfew, and privileges to stay out later are earned. Every Wednesday is "Family Day" when teens learn independent living skills, accompanied by a family-style dinner. School is always a component, whether it's trade school, high school or entering college. An employment coordinator helps kids with job searches, writing resumes and practicing for job interviews.

Kids' coursework also includes budgeting skills. Once they get a job, Gow says, "They put 80 percent of their paycheck into a savings account so that when they move out they have a nest egg." When they do move out, the young people can still use the center as a resource.

Gow admits that some days can be heartbreaking due to circumstances that led to young people becoming homeless, living on the streets or in cars. But she also says that many days are positive, as she sees kids learn the value of self-worth and a positive plan. "Every child deserves that chance," she says.

J Bar J Youth Services


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