House for homeless youth opens - Beloit Daily News: News

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House for homeless youth opens

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Posted: Monday, February 10, 2014 4:00 pm

What started out as a dream became a reality Friday, when the first three unaccompanied youth of Rock County moved into Project 16:49’s Robin House.

Project 16:49, a local non-profit organization designed to help homeless or unaccompanied youth in Rock County, has opened its first group home for young women in Beloit, and has plans to one day open a similar house in Janesville.

The number 16:49 refers to the amount of hours and minutes between the end of the school day and when the school day starts again the next morning, and the program aims to help homeless teens during that time. The organization was formed after Rubén Burgos’ film “Sixteen Forty-Nine,” released in 2010, highlighted true stories of local youth struggling to survive on their own after school hours.

On Sunday, Burgos, Project 16:49 Executive Director Tammy DeGarmo, School District of Beloit Homeless Liaison Robin Stuht, Project 16:49 Case Manager Amy Smejkal, Resident Assistant Samantha Gaffey and intern Alissa Heiting gathered to talk about how far the movement has come.

They said the Beloit house, which is leased, can provide lodging for up to seven girls ages 18 and 19 who are still in school. It’s on the city bus line so students can have access to transportation to school or to a job. Each room has a TV, new bed and custom-sewn curtains donated by generous community members, and the house is fully stocked with non-perishables and toiletries.

Gaffey, who is also a graduation coach at Beloit Memorial High School, is living in the home and helping the girls come up with a an action plan.

“She already knows many of the girls and has established trust,” Stuht said.

The girls can stay up to 18 months if they are working toward their agreed upon life goals.

Stuht explained how youth in the homes pay 30 percent of their income as “rent” which is held in an account and returned to them upon completion of the program. The money is designed to be used toward a “nest egg” of security deposits, furniture, vehicles or other needs they have in the future in their quest to become self-sufficient. Stuht noted that the first three young women in the house already have secured part-time jobs.

In a tour of the home she showed the pantry, the communal kitchen and dining room, bathrooms and other rooms for visiting with each other.

The residents will not only be given a stable place to live, but skills to help them bridge their high school to adult years. For example, girls will be required to attend Sunday dinner meetings, perform chores and learn independent living skills through 16:49’s partnership with the Juvenile Diversion Program.

No visitors will be allowed in the home and the girls will have to show progress toward their individual goals.

Although there will be room for up to seven girls at the home, there will be a long waiting list. Stuht said it is estimated there are 60 homeless or unaccompanied youth in Beloit.

Since the program’s formation the problem of unaccompanied youth has only become worse as one in four youth are living in poverty in Beloit, according to data released by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

“Our economy hasn’t bounced back, and the cost of living and wages hasn’t begun to catch up,” Stuht said.

Although the program serves those age 12 and up, the largest number of unaccompanied youth are age 16 to 18 who aren’t old enough to stay at homeless shelters or get their own financial assistance, Stuht said. Many of them are staying on friends’ couches or performing chores or childcare for families in exchange for a roof over their head. And sadly, some of the young women are staying with abusive boyfriends or with inappropriate men in order to survive, she said.

“There’s not enough resources to serve them or get them housed in a stable place,” Stuht said.

In addition to their lack of financial resources, Gaffey and Stuht explained how unaccompanied youth are in a reactive state, emotionally distressed, tired and distraught from the constant stress of trying to survive and hide their situation.

“A lot of them are embarrassed. They try to go around and fit in as much as possible,” Gaffey said.

With the recent school closures because of the snow, Gaffey said some of the students have been scrambling to find places to stay during the day in addition to at night.

Although some unaccompanied youth may have some caring friends to stay with at one point, their living situation can change quickly when an extra mouth to feed becomes too much for friends and families.

One of the hopes of the house experience is that the youth will be able to form bonds with each other to help support each other in the future. Project 16:49 is also working to pair homeless youth with mentors, and is working with Safe Families for Children agency to find volunteers who are willing to house students. The church-based program does not pay families for their foster care.

Stuht said a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old have been placed with local families and more families and volunteers are being sought.

Although the numbers of unaccompanied youth has increased along with poverty, Stuht said the amount of community support has also grown.

Stuht noted most of the homeless and unaccompanied youth are talented and college bound, often mature beyond their years after having to live with extreme challenges.

Gaffey said she works with 20 homeless or unaccompanied seniors at Beloit Memorial High School who are all on track to graduate despite their circumstances. All the youth need, Stuht said, is a caring adult who will stick by them.

For more information about the program or to make a donation, call DeGarmo at 608-314-5501 or go online to:

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  • HandBookHarry posted at 4:48 pm on Fri, Feb 14, 2014.

    HandBookHarry Posts: 485

    Talk about useless, we have spent trillions more than all wars combined on the war on poverty and here we are still yet waiting for liberals to articulate an exit strategy on an end to this unpopular war.

    Just imagine how much more fruitful and productive this country would be had we not wasted trillions on curing society's ills. Once the government got involved in legislation emotion we were doomed.

  • luckydog posted at 2:25 pm on Thu, Feb 13, 2014.

    luckydog Posts: 3636

    Hey Handbook, what would the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on that totally useless war in Iraq have done for a whole bunch of people?

  • 1badbubyu posted at 4:49 pm on Wed, Feb 12, 2014.

    1badbubyu Posts: 1651

    I can only speculate but perhaps the young homeless teen males have better chances of finding a safe place to stay. That would be my guess. Are the parents informed if any underage runaways show up at this house? Articles like this make me realize how AWESOME my "Lower Middle Class" family was/is!

  • billtinder posted at 3:38 pm on Wed, Feb 12, 2014.

    billtinder Posts: 4907

    Way to go, Sammy and friends. We are proud of what you are seeking to accomplish and the efforts that you're making.
    This is a great idea and much needed step in the right direction for helping those homeless girls succeed in life..
    I also agree with badbubyu's point about a need for young men as well. ( or is there already something in place?)

    Oh, and by the way; you misspelled "dat".

  • 1badbubyu posted at 6:59 am on Wed, Feb 12, 2014.

    1badbubyu Posts: 1651

    Why is this house specifically for girls?...........sup wit that?

  • HandBookHarry posted at 6:56 pm on Tue, Feb 11, 2014.

    HandBookHarry Posts: 485

    Just imagine what five million dollars (cost to build a pool) would have done for these students.

  • dannyf posted at 3:46 pm on Tue, Feb 11, 2014.

    dannyf Posts: 109

    Congrats on the opening of the new group home! I agree with previous writers that what we need are more homes like this. Our youth are our future.

  • Gonfo5 posted at 8:26 am on Tue, Feb 11, 2014.

    Gonfo5 Posts: 177

    Actually Harry, I'm not one to want to spend tax dollars but in this case I don't have a problem spending money on kids so they can get an education and have a place to stay. If you want them to become something in life so they don't have to live on the system, then they need at least the basic essentials to do this. It's not the kids fault they are homeless and sometimes not their parents fault either. Not everyone who is homeless is a welfare system manipulator! There are plenty of them but not all are.

  • js20094 posted at 6:00 am on Tue, Feb 11, 2014.

    js20094 Posts: 1411

    On the contrary harry, this is the type of program that needs tax dollars. There are over 50 unaccompanied youth just within our district, through no fault of their own. They are victims of poor parenting and need the support of out community to show them how they can still thrive despite their uncontrollable circumstances. We need more programs like this to help our at risk youth.

  • HandBookHarry posted at 6:37 pm on Mon, Feb 10, 2014.

    HandBookHarry Posts: 485

    I wish them the best. I just hope they do not start asking for public tax dollars to bail them out in case their funds dry out.


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