Venice-based nonprofit opens another housing site for homeless youth
By Andres De Ocampo
Safe Place for Youth (SPY), a nonprofit organization, expanded their housing program for pregnant and parenting youth after success at their first housing site.
The nonprofit began in 2011 when Alison Hurst and a group of volunteers began offering food and clothing to homeless youth in Venice Beach. Since then, SPY has grown from a 100% volunteer-based organization in 2011 to a permanent location in 2015 with support from board members, volunteers, donors, partner organizations and their staff.
SPY works to provide young people experiencing homelessness ages 12 to 25 with individualized support through case management and SPY’s resources to establish short and long-term goals that build toward stability.
According to SPY’s website, case management plays an essential role in meeting the physical, psychosocial and support needs of SPY youth by “working from a holistic, relationship-based approach and building on a young person’s strengths.”
SPY’s case management services include employment support and workshops, mental health services, a pregnant and parenting program, a family reunification program and housing support, all focused on incorporating youth back into the community.
The Nest, a transitional housing program that serves youth between the ages of 18 to 24 who are pregnant or parenting, is a part of SPY’s pregnant and parenting housing support and offers no-cost housing for up to 36 months.
SPY launched the first Nest site in 2019 where up to 10 families can receive housing in five units in an apartment complex in Inglewood.
Iberia Calix, senior program housing director with SPY, said that the Nest program has worked out very well since its launch.
“We had about 98% retention, with 98% going on to permanent housing, whether it’s permanent supportive housing or their own apartment,” Calix said.
The success of the first Nest site led SPY to expand the program and find another location in Inglewood to help more pregnant and parenting youth, just two miles from the first site. The new site, which opened in July, is a three-bedroom house and is currently at capacity, according to Calix.
“Because we opened (our first site) in 2019, we’re still working with the youth that moved in,” Calix said. “We have 21 people in our Nest program including their children and in total we’ve helped a little under 30 youth.”
Something that makes the Nest unique is the focused support towards pregnant and parenting youth, since there aren’t enough programs dedicated for those individuals, Calix said. In addition, SPY extends housing to couples, who can apply for the Nest program as a unit to live together, she added.
Calix expanded on the intention of a pregnant and parenting housing program, like the Nest, and SPY’s general priority of focusing on support for transitional youth.
“Systematically, the way that it works is that housing is prioritized for those that have been on the streets the longest or who are chronically ill, so that displaced younger people in the system,” Calix said. “So then emerged the youth coordinated entry system so youth can have the opportunity to enter those programs to gain stability for themselves.”
The coordination entry system or CES is a decentralized, streamlined method for connecting single adults, youth and families who are in need or experiencing homelessness to a network of organizations who can help provide support services in Los Angeles County.
As far as other services SPY provides, as a part of the pregnant and parenting program and the Nest housing, the organization has a dedicated specialist that helps pregnant youth, children or families in the program with “developmental milestones,” that they might go through, Calix said.
The dedicated pregnant and parenting specialist might help with “a birthing plan, what to expect during your pregnancy journey and a post-birthing plan and what that first year might look like.
“It takes a lot of community and resources to raise a family and so we wanted to provide a service that can incorporate that,” Calix added.
She explained that it’s gratifying to help a unique population that do not usually have enough resources or services due to their situation of having or expecting a family and having to compete with adults who have been homeless longer or have chronic illness.
“It’s very exciting to be able to watch our youth in their growth,” Calix said. “They really need the stability of a program like the Nest in order to get their footing again and gain the skills they need to move on and provide for themselves and their families. It’s really a beautiful process to be a part of.”
As far as what’s next for SPY and other housing programs, Calix said, “We are expanding out, wherever the need is. We definitely want to look at innovative solutions to assist in this issue of homelessness for young people. We have a couple of things we’re working on and we’re always looking for opportunities to expand our current program to partner with other agencies in the field.”