ONTARIO – There will soon be a place for youth experiencing homelessness to meet, search for a job, do homework and get a shower because of a $200,000 state grant to Ontario’s Community in Action.
The new teen center, set to open this fall, will be inside the Ontario Aquatic Center and will serve at-risk and homeless young people between the ages of 14 and 24.
Community in Action, which opened in 2009, provides services in Malheur and Harney counties that include energy and weatherization assistance, housing and support for the homeless.
The space set aside for the center is small – a single room – but Sandy Kendall, youth coordinator for Community in Action, said the organization anticipates expanding in the future.
Now, she said, work crews are busy renovating the room.
Kendall said Community in Action applied for the state grant last spring to address a rise in the number of homeless youths.
“We noticed youth and people coming in were a lot younger than they used to be and they were either homeless or on the verge of homelessness. We noticed there was a need to give them a hand up and help them out. That is where the whole idea came from,” said Kendall.
Kendall said Community in Action worked with the Ontario Recreation District to get the idea off the ground. The recreation district manages the old aquatic center. Kendall said the center features a common area, will offer arts and crafts and rest rooms where “people can shower if they need to.”
“We will have computers available to help with homework or job searching,” said Kendall.
The center will also feature a private meeting room. The goal, she said, is to create a kind of one-stop center where youth in need can get help.
“Our hope is to coordinate with other area agencies to where they come in and see youth so that they don’t have to run all over the place to go to different organizations,” said Kendall.
Kendall said she believes the need is acute enough that the center will outgrow its location. The grant money will be stretched over two years, she said.
“Everything is paid for right now but we are hoping that the community might grab a hold of the idea and want to contribute and kind of help with funding,” said Kendall.
Kendall said Community in Action is “looking to hire a couple of youth advocates who can come in and help case manage and work with the youth.”
“Some of the (grant) money will go toward buying supplies for them, school supplies or clothes for a job or whatever is in their case plan where they need assistance,” said Kendall.
Kendall said when she began work for Community in Action in May she noticed the need for a youth center immediately.
“I would go look at the park and there would be 20 or 30 kids hanging out because they had nothing to do. So, I am excited that kids who would not normally have something to do or anything constructive to do after school can come to the center,” said Kendall.
Kendall said the center will be “really just a chill place.”
“Kids don’t have to be involved with any programing,” said Kendall.
Kendall said the key piece of the center is to build relationships with youth in an effort to find ways to provide help.
“We have kids already dealing with substance abuse and we want to make sure we are connecting with them and getting them treatment. All of that starts with a relationship and that is where the center comes in,” said Kendall.
Kendall said since Covid, youth feel especially disconnected.
“We hope to get kids involved with meaningful relationships with other people and really start to plan for their futures,” said Kendall.
For now, the center will not be a designated meal site for youth, said Kendall, but she said the ability to offer some kind of meal to youth is a future goal.
“Right now, we don’t have a kitchen, but, because food insecurity is so huge in Malheur County, getting one is at the top of my list,” said Kendall.
Kendall also said there will be a microwave and a refrigerator at the center so kids can “heat something up.”
“We will work to try to have food. That is something we are trying to figure out,” said Kendall.
News tip? Contact Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
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