Amanda Bernasconi, Emergency Solutions Coordinator of Southwestern Youth Services, Inc. is on a mission to bring awareness and create impactful change towards homelessness in Altus and surrounding communities. In her efforts to bring awareness not only to teen homelessness in Jackson County which she works with directly on a daily basis, Bernasconi is striving to bring awareness to homelessness in Jackson County as a whole in a search to improve the current system and find solutions.
The Emergency Solutions Grant is available to use for homeless families with children. The grant is broken into three categories providing Southwestern Youth Services (SWYS) with funds to assist the homeless families. First being “homeless prevention” which allows them to help stop evictions, prevent utilities from being turned off or to get them turned back on for qualifying families. The second part that the grant addresses is “rapid re-housing” for families in need of housing. The grant allows SWYS to pay the qualifying family’s deposit or first months rent and in some cases their utility deposit in-order to secure housing. Lastly apart of that grant is funding for “shelter” for a family who is physically on the street. SWYS can house the family in a hotel for one week maximum. The family is most often referred to SWYS by Operation Care or Prince of Peace, either of those two organizations can put the family up for a night or two and will call Bernasconi who then contacts the family and begins case management to help find the best option of assistance for their situation.
“We are a non-profit organization and we are focused on youth. Homelessness in Jackson County is a real problem and we need people to know about our services, that may need them and we also need the community’s support. We can’t do this alone so I reached out to people I know of other organizations that deal with homelessness in Jackson County and created the Jackson County Homeless Prevention Alliance. We can get more done by coming together,” said Bernasconi.
Friday, March 20, the Jackson County Homeless Prevention Alliance met at First United Methodist Church to share each organization’s upcoming events and to discuss an action plan of what their collaboration can do to create change and benefit the homeless and the community as a whole. The mission of this group is to get everyone together who focuses on homeless prevention in the Jackson County area in a variety of ways and to all start working together for a common goal. The common goal is to completely prevent and bring an end to homelessness in Jackson County.
Present at the meeting were Amanda Bernasconi, Southwestern Youth Services ESG Coordinator, Joanna Ramirez, Southwestern Youth Services Youth Development Coordinator, Woodine Roudebush, Southwestern Youth Services Emergency Housing Coordinator, Betty and Ron Ray of Saint Vincent De Paul/Prince of Peace, Mike Munn of the Altus Police Department, Jennifer Garcia of Red Rock Behavioral Health Services, Debbie New of Oklahoma State Department of Health, Brenda Darville of the ACMI House, Amgela Ybarra of Operation Care and Stephen Gable of Workforce Oklahoma.
Each individual at the table expressed a sincere concern and care for the homeless epidemic that far too many think doesn’t exist. “Out of sight, out of mind,” said Bernasconi in reference to the way the community views homelessness. For many people, if they don’t see individuals on the street first hand then they don’t think it actually exists.
One of the big issues that affects homeless is that of convicted felons who become homeless and in turn create a cycle by reverting back to bad behavior because they are unable to find and secure employment and have nothing else. The group will be reaching out to businesses as well as City Officials to attend their next meeting to discuss employment options for individuals with a prior felony as well as what will it take to get a shelter in Altus.
“Something we’ll need to be careful of with pitching to businesses to hire felons is that a lot of them don’t want the stigma attached to their business of being “felony friendly”,” said Stephen Gable, Workforce OK.
In the case of youth homelessness there are several factors that can leave a teenage child homeless. They may age out of foster care and not have anywhere to go, they may have been abandoned, kicked out of their home, they may be coming from Oklahoma Juvenile Authority, and also not having a history of stability.
Southwestern Youth Services has a transitional living program, for 18-24 year old’s who are homeless. They are given a place to live while being required to attend school or go to work. They are taught basic life skills by attending classes for budgeting, resume building, business etiquette, healthy living and more. SWYS not only teaches them stability but keep them stable. In actuality all of the people who utilize their programs take those classes and they are also available to the public.
The mission of the SWYS Transitional Living Program is to assist these young adults in gaining the tools they need to eventually go out on their own and become productive members of society. In order for them to stretch their limited funding as far as they can and effectively help homeless youth and families in Jackson County, SWYS will be renovating their old office building and turn it into a six bedroom girls transitional living home. This will free up the duplex that the “transitional living” girls currently reside in. The duplex will then be renovated and used for homeless families. This will ensure that the families SWYS helps can stay for a longer period of time than the current one week hotel sheltering allows.
Joanna Ramirez, Southwestern Youth Services Youth Development Coordinator, is heading this project with the help of Bernasconi.
“A contractor has volunteered to oversee the renovations along with some volunteers from his crew. I have applied for a grant through Lowes and contacted Fox Building Supply for help with the supplies that will be needed. We are in need of community support in the way of volunteers and donated materials,” said Ramirez.
Anyone interested in volunteering, donating or need more information about this project can contact Joanna Ramirez at 580-482-2809.
The Jackson County Homeless Prevention Alliance will be creating a comprehensive flyer including information of all the agencies information and their services.
“A problem I run into is when I give a person an agency’s information and I’m not sure if the information is current or not. Some of the flyers we have are really old. Having one flyer or something with all the agencies current information on it will be helpful in helping people get the resources they need,” said Angela Ybarra, Operation Care.
The group has scheduled to meet every third Friday of the month and invite citizens who have a role or interest in homeless prevention, business owners and managers and City Officials to join them.
“This is great. Everyone gave a lot of good input and I think by coming together like this we’re already making progress,” said Bernasconi.
Contact Tinita Tennant at (580) 482-1221