It was as close to a miracle as you can get. Just when all hope seemed lost for Wind Youth Services, the only homeless teen shelter in Sacramento, a financially-solvent fairy godmother swooped in to save the day.
The shelter temporarily closed in early February of 2016 due to a lack of operating funds necessary to keep the doors open, says Wind Youth Executive Director Suzi Dotson. A few weeks later, the Goodwill chapter of Sacramento Valley & Northern Nevada donated an initial seed gift of $10,000 to Wind Youth, allowing the facility to reopen in the short-term. They also issued a “challenge to the community,” Dotson says, to raise even more.
Wind Youth Center services nearly 200 homeless teens between the ages of 12 and 18 every month. They focus on getting the teens back into school and reunited with their families, when possible. “It’s a pretty expensive program,” Dotson says. “It has to be staffed 24 hours a day because they’re minors. It’s really intensive work.” Wind staffers provide support and care to the homeless or troubled teens so that they can address what is going on at home, she says. According to their website at windyouth.org, Wind is “the only service provider in Sacramento County focusing solely on runaway, homeless and street youth and transition age youth.”
Goodwill also helped organize another fundraiser that sought to raise $135,000 to keep Wind’s doors open all year — and they met their goal, with Goodwill matching another $3,000 donation from the combined efforts of Outword Magazine and Badlands in Sacramento. But the real funds came from an on-air drive during Good Day Sacramento that finally tipped the scales and reached their fundraising goal.
According to Wind’s website, Sacramento County has only 12 available emergency shelter beds available, and a growing waitlist of nearly 100 teens. Approximately 5,000 teens between the ages of 12 and 18 will experience homelessness at some point this year, and 40 percent of them identify as a part of the LGBTQ community. In one three-month period, Wind sheltered 38 teens, served more than 1,800 meals and provided 321 counseling sessions to local, homeless youth.
“Goodwill believes that the real solution to breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness includes a broad and coordinated approach that provides both short-term and long-term opportunities,” says Karen McClaflin, chief development officer of Goodwill Sacramento Valley & Northern Nevada, in an email. “Wind Youth Services is the premier provider of these services to the young people in our community, so our support for their shelter and other programs is an easy decision.”
If Wind shuts their doors, then young people have nowhere to go, Dotson says.
The Wind Youth Center is funded through the end of the year, and a federal grant will continue to help pay for two-thirds of the running cost, Dotson says. Where the operating money will come from next year though, no one yet knows.