Homeless youth in metro area find shelter through Volunteers of America programs

Twenty-year-old Brittany Jones faced the harsh reality of being homeless in Denver along with her infant daughter, but a Volunteers of America youth housing program is sheltering the young mother.

Jones, who lived homeless for about 18 months in Denver, moved to Colorado from Memphis three years ago, she said.

Looking for a fresh start and a better life than what she left behind in Tennessee, Jones moved to live with a sister. Residing with her sister didn’t work out, and Jones soon found herself in dire straits.

Now, with the help of the non-profit and through the Bannock Youth and Family Center, Jones has a warm apartment for her and her daughter, 6-month-old Allayiah.

“It’s really hard to get housing in Denver,” Jones said. “I was trying to find a home that my daughter could stay in too…it’s a really good program.”

Brittany Jones at her apartment on ...
AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

Brittany Jones at her apartment on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018.

The struggling young mother recently heard about the Volunteers of America Youth Transitions Project through a friend and she made a telephone call.

“They called me back instantly,” Jones said.

Jones’ desperate situation — being homeless, young and a mother — fit the criteria for the Youth Transitions Project.

“Participants are required to be homeless, staying in a shelter or a place not meant for human habitation such as an abandoned car or house,” said Lauren Bernstein, a project manager with Volunteers. “They are literally homeless.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides funding for the program. Volunteers of America staffers seek property owners with rentals and connect them with people who are battling homelessness.

“We are now making sure to house the most vulnerable youth first,” Bernstein said.

The Volunteers program arranges rental assistance on a decreasing scale. The longer a beneficiary stays in the program, for up to two years, they gradually take on more of the housing cost.

Volunteers of America has two additional youth housing programs: Permanent supportive housing and housing stabilization.

Permanent supportive housing is a more acute program for chronically homeless youth, Bernstein said. To qualify, participants have been homeless for a year and they’ve been diagnosed with a disability. The program uses scattered site apartments and 30 percent of a participant’s income goes toward rent. Case management can be more intensive, and participants can stay in the program on a continual basis.

“Our programs operate on a housing first model,” Bernstein said. “People really need to have a home so they can focus on other things that they may want to do” such as school or counseling services.

The housing stabilization program is for adults older than 25, who have children under the age of 18. The program is similar to the Youth Transitions Project but with shorter terms. Participants identify areas they want to live, typically based on locations of employment or services, and the program helps them find nearby housing and to fit in.

“We try to connect them to resources,” Bernstein said. “If the services are in Aurora, they might not want to live in Lakewood or vice versa.”

As the metro area housing market has exploded over the past several years, with prices and rents skyrocketing, housing has become unaffordable for many youthful Coloradans, especially young families.

“It’s been very difficult to find affordable housing,” Bernstein said. “It’s a very competitive market where a one-bedroom apartment could be $1,400. That’s pretty astronomical.”

Jones, who is attending night school to earn a high school general equivalency diploma, says the Volunteers of America program has given her hope for a brighter future. She uses a monthly RTD bus pass, which the program secured, to get around and her 20-year-old boyfriend Joseph Hearns, who also was homeless, lives with her.

Hearns is a senior at Respect Academy, a high school in Denver, and is looking for part-time work while he finishes school.

Jones said caseworkers with the Volunteers of America help her consistently.

“There are a lot of resources, They’re very nice,” Jones said. “They called me the other day and asked me about…whether I needed anything.”

Year started: (Bannock Youth and Family Center youth programs) 2009

Number of employees: Nine full-time staff

Annual budget: $1,361,940

Percentage of funds that goes directly to client services: 94%

Number served last year: 301


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