Young and Alone
Wind serves youth with nowhere to go
By Scot Crocker
Homeless young people are found in every corner of Sacramento. Some sleep on the streets. Others couch surf with friends or tap into social services scattered around town. One Downtown organization, Wind Youth Services, is dedicated to helping homeless young people. In recent years, the organization has blossomed as a robust provider of programs and services after near insolvency.
Growing numbers of unsheltered young people have been an inevitable consequence of Sacramento’s homeless crisis. As the problem expands, so does Wind Youth Services. The organization served 805 young people in 2018 and 1,029 last year. “The problem keeps getting worse,” says Robynne Rose-Haymer, Wind’s executive director. “We have an influx of young people moving here. There’s little affordable housing and services have not been publicized. We certainly have seen a spike in the need in Sacramento.” When many young people near their 18th birthday, they leave home, driven out by family dysfunction. Often they have no place to go, no strategy for long-term stability, and limited skills and education to thrive in the job market. Drugs and alcohol may play a role, making daily existence even more difficult. “These young people fall off the workforce roles,” Rose-Haymer says. “The home life starts to fall apart and young people know no options. They don’t know how to complete forms, get housing, open a bank account or even manage housing if they found something.”
Wind provides options. It runs the only emergency shelter for homeless and runaway kids. While participants may need training in multiple subject areas, the Wind Downtown drop-in shelter staff explains the basics of survival. They offer support networks, food services, limited health care options, classes and programs, laundry, games and more.
“We ask our participants to invest in themselves,” Rose-Haymer says. “They need to be competent in basic life skills. They need the hard skills like budgeting, getting credit and applying for a job. But they also need access to a learning environment and a path forward into adulthood.”
The program teaches young people how failure is not an end but a start. The Wind team takes pride in success stories and the growth of young people.
“Everyone knows about our housing issues and the lack of affordable housing for low wage jobs,” Rose-Haymer says. “We have to continue to find housing opportunities and we will continue to work with youth so they can have employment and ability to keep their house once they get it.”
Wind’s model includes collaboration with other organizations—service providers with systems to help young people with school, health care, housing and other needs.
Beyond the Downtown drop-in shelter, Wind operates group homes and has the only homeless street outreach program in Sacramento. The program is designed to help homeless youth on the streets, building trust and encouraging them to access other services. The outreach teams carry food, clothes and basic necessities.
“We want homeless youth to know there’s help out there,” Rose-Haymer says. “Wind has the programs and a great staff ready to help. Our board is very active and we have built strong relationships throughout the community. However, we still need to get the word out about us.”
Wind provides other support, including life lessons, education and help with housing. And there’s a focus on job development.
“With skills, a minimum-wage employee can advance to $20 to $30 per hour,” Rose-Haymer says. “Or they can take a few classes and get a career tech certificate which can add to their paycheck. Many young people don’t know about Social Security cards, identification, time sheets and other basic skills to acquire and keep a job. We get them prepared.”
She adds, “Some of our participants even get jobs here at Wind. We all believe in help and making a difference. It’s really heart-to-heart type of work. It takes special people and we have them here at Wind.”
Scot Crocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.