“Youth are the quiet homeless,” says Lu Ann Ross, Vice President of Programs at Hillcrest Transitional Housing. “They sleep on couches at a friend’s place, and are less likely to share their stories with others.” This is one reason Hillcrest Transitional Housing exists: to be a strong voice in the community on behalf of homeless youth. Through funding from the Children’s Services Fund, they’re working to serve children and families in Jackson County with practical support, resources and connections for stability.
A Snapshot of Jackson County Youth Homelessness
As of November of 2021, 284 youth and children under the age of 18 were in emergency or transitional housing in Jackson County, including Kansas City, Independence and Lee’s Summit. Some of the risk factors include:
- A history of family conflict or abuse
- Time in or aging out of foster care
- Substance use
- Sexual activity, pregnancy or parenting
- School challenges
- Hispanic or black communities
- Identifying as LGBTQ
Although these are the recorded numbers of those in shelter, the team at Hillcrest knows the need is greater. They’ve also identified the biggest challenges young single parents face, and know their support needs to align to these ends:
- Finding an available unit that meets their needs from a landlord willing to rent
- Reliable transportation
- Safe and affordable childcare
These long-term needs, and daily urgent ones like unexpected relationship challenges, sick children or a last-minute change in schedule, are exacerbated by shrinking resources. Some partner organizations have been forced to discontinue their programs due to lack of funding. Fortunately for Hillcrest, this is not the case. They’ve seen success with their rapid funding program in Kansas City, Kansas, which is also modeled in Clay and Platte Counties. They are now repurposing that program for expansion into Jackson County, Missouri.
Wraparound Support for Youth Under 19
Hillcrest’s Youth Transitional Housing Program offers 90-day support for 16-24 year olds. However, utilizing funds from the CSF, they are able to provide up to 24 months of holistic support for those 19 and under, including children of single parents. Summer Livingston, Director of Youth Services explains, “It’s a high accountability program where we provide a unit, including free rent and utilities, as well as case management. We also require 10-15 hours of work per week.” These services fill the gap. Where HUD and other agencies support only those who are homeless, Hillcrest helps single moms who are working, but don’t have enough income to support the family, or maybe experienced a setback, for example. They need others to come around and help stabilize life for them and their kids.
Megan Barelli, Youth Case Manager shared what it’s like to work with youth on a weekly basis. “We talk alot about BEEP — Budget, Education, Employment, and Personal Goals. First, we help them be smart with their money. Education is big for them and for us; we want them to be lifelong learners. We help them get their GED or graduate high school in order to have better employment opportunities. For those who come to us working 60-hours a week, having access to free rent is huge in terms of helping them pull back from work in order to focus on education.”
Madison’s Journey Toward Security and Stability
For Summer, she knows their holistic approach is what these youth really need. She’s seen it firsthand with Madison — the first single mom they’ve served in Jackson County. “When she came to us in KCK, we realized her whole support system was in Jackson County. She was living with 3 other adults in a fourplex with her 3 children sharing a pullout couch.” Their first task: to find a landlord in Independence who would rent to her. One of their community mentorship partners, Woods Chapel Church, furnished her apartment.
Next, they focused on education and income. “Her first goal was to earn her high school diploma. Partners like Literacy KC and the Turning Point program are providing individualized education with tutoring. Madison’s schedule, between her manufacturing job and shuffling kiddos, was grueling. Getting up at 5am to take the kids to her moms and then working 6am to 2pm hindered school — all while barely making ends meet. Madison now earns $15 an hour at Foster Adopt Connect’s new Connect Cafe, and her schedule can work around her kids.” She’s learning new job skills and getting connected to other resources as well.
Hillcrest cares about her littles, too! If they can reach them when they’re young, there’s a greater chance they’ll go on to lead happy, healthy lives despite their early struggles. Madison’s oldest is now in school in Independence and her two youngest are in HeadStart. Additional support comes through Church of the Resurrection’s food bank program, and clothing from the Hillcrest Transitional Housing thrift store in Jackson County.
This holistic approach helped Madison find a rhythm for life, security and stability. It’s the foundation for growth in every area of her life and the lives of her kids. “When Madison came to us, we considered her in the “coping phase,” but today she’s now flourishing. Her self sufficiency paved the way for her kids to get the behavioral therapy and education they need for healthy child development, too. That’s success to us,” reflected Summer.
Setting Big Goals and Growing Partnerships To Do More
While they celebrate Madison’s accomplishments, Hillcrest knows they need to do more. “Weekly case management is just not enough for this age group. They need us when they need us,” says Megan. In order to establish a more permanent presence for Jackson County youth, they’re looking for a facility in the area. They also need two to three more case managers, a mental health professional and health navigator. Summer’s dream would be a 15-passenger van for event transportation.
They’re thankful for funding from the CSF. “Their support has been so generous. When we applied, we weren’t sure we would get any support, so we’ve just been very grateful for what the CSF has allowed us to do. Now that we have the ability to prioritize expansion into Jackson County, we’re even more excited about getting a building, partnering with other organizations like us, and sharing with the community what’s possible,” says Lu Ann.
For Summer and Megan, they want people to know just how much they truly care. “This isn’t just a job and a paycheck. We want to help these youth and kids to the best of our ability.”
While the CSF facilitates funding, community awareness and support is vital in meeting the needs of homeless youth and kids in Jackson County. Learn more about community mentorship opportunities through Hillcrest, and sign up for our monthly eNewsletter to stay informed.