The lack of local resources for homeless young men is giving their bills to the Jessamine County government and costing the students their futures, according to a new group aiming to start a transitional-housing program for 18- to 24-year-old males.
InnVision hosted an informational meeting at Jessamine Career and Technology Center on Tuesday, when half a dozen citizens spent about an hour and a half talking with board members about implementing the program and garnering community support. The project is currently in the phase of gauging community interest and gaining support; no specific plans have been made for a facility.
The board of InnVision is composed largely of education professionals, including several teachers from The Providence School, who started the project two years ago. Jessica Dodgen, a board member who has been working with homeless students in the district for three years, said there was a large population of 17- to 20-year-olds in school that year who had been kicked out or run away from home, many of whom had legal trouble as well.
“We just had a huge group of young men that year who were not in the care of a parent or guardian and who were moving from place to place, sleeping in public places, on people’s porches, getting into a lot of trouble — a lot of them were selling drugs, bringing drugs to school,” she said. “... We had nothing to offer them. They had no motivation to graduate, no motivation to straighten up their life, nowhere to go, and we were feeling frustrated as student support people that we had nothing to offer them.”
Dodgen’s research showed an average of about 10 males in the school system each year between the ages of 18 and 21 who were “precariously housed,”not being in the care of a parent or guardian and not having a safe place to stay. These students often ended up in and out of jail, she said.
“Most of the time, they’re very likeable guys who just don’t have many other options and don’t have positive leadership,” Dodgen said. “I think that by ignoring them and ignoring the need that we’re actually costing the community more than we would cost by putting in a place for them to get off the street.”
The group has watched the need stay consistent for the past several years and decided to begin addressing the problem by exploring the creation of a transitional-living program that did not deal with minors and only housed men. Dodgen said the group felt a shelter would not have the support of the community, and federal funding was shifting toward transitional living instead of emergency shelters.
“We felt like we had to start small and start with a small, doable project that we could kind of test the waters with, build some skills with working with a shelter,” Dodgen said.
The goal is a house that would hold six to eight men and be staffed 24 hours a day. Residents would be required to attend school — either high school or GED preparation — or work. They would have food and shelter provided along with medical and clothing assistance, counseling and sex education.
While the InnVision board includes many who work at public schools, it is not affiliated with the school district and is a Christian effort that would encourage residents to attend church. Dodgen told those at the meeting Tuesday that the board believes the project is an example of “what Christianity means.”
“We don’t care where they go to church; we’re not going to require them to go to church, but we would prefer that they go to church,” Dodgen said. “We don’t mince words that this is a Christian effort, so when they are at the house, there are going to be staff members who model Christian behaviors and a Christian lifestyle, and there will be opportunities for them to participate in Bible studies and worship at a church of their choice.”
Residents would be able to stay at InnVision for up to a year, with six months of aftercare. The facility would have a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol, drugs and violence, and residents would be required to make progress on individual case plans.
“There’s such a need for it that we won’t have any problems filling the beds, and we need to be filling them with people who are taking advantage of the program and really working hard,”Dodgen said.
Much of the discussion Tuesday focused on how to get support from the community — including businesses and local officials — for a project involving troubled youth that could concern some. But board members emphasized Tuesday that the program would not draw homeless individuals from other areas but would focus on Jessamine Countians. Denise Adams, a board member who is also principal at Providence, said the aim is to “reclaim” the people in the community who are already here.
“These families, these children, are already here, and this county is supporting them in some form or fashion now,” Adams said. “We might as well do it in a way that’s legitimate and in a way that teaches this group of young men to do it differently than what they’ve been doing in the past, differently from the way they were taught, because it hasn’t worked for them.”
For more information about InnVision, email firstname.lastname@example.org.