On April 11, longstanding Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) grantee Wichita Children’s Home (WCH) received a routine call from a nearby adult homeless shelter: a young man, “Tim,” had arrived at the shelter immediately after being released from a short stint in jail. Tim was only 19, and the shelter wanted to know if he was a fit for WCH’s FYSB-funded Street Outreach Program. He arrived at WCH by the end of the day, and a few months later he was working a steady job and living in an apartment of his own.
“If every case was similar to this, it would be amazing,” says Soutdaly Sysavath, Director of Community Programs for WCH. But she adds that even this success is a reminder of the inherent struggles that come with RHY work. Tim’s five-month journey was filled with pitfalls and setbacks, returns to the street, and chronic frustration. It took collaboration between WCH’s different programs, multiple case workers, and Tim’s own determination to get him into a healthier place, physically and mentally.
“This work always comes with challenges,” says Sysavath, “It’s a rollercoaster, not every day is a good day. There are times when the youth relapse or drop out of sight or we are limited in what we can offer them. The question is, how do we fill those gaps, or use other resources to fill them?”
During the intake process, Tim described his adolescence in multiple foster care settings and a brief return to his mother’s house in Oklahoma when he turned 18. However, because she was still battling alcohol and drug addiction, he set off on his own.
During his visit home, Tim missed a court date in Kansas, which led to his prison stay. Upon release, he had nowhere to go, a criminal record, none of the documents needed to get a steady job, and no safety net. All he had was a desire to get on the right track.
Tim chose to stay in one of the program’s two overnight apartments for youth. At the time, his case managers thought he was a better fit for their rapid rehousing program than their FYSB-funded transitional living program. But rapid rehousing required his birth certificate and other identification that he didn’t have.
The process to obtain those documents took longer than anyone expected. During the wait, Tim moved between the adult men’s shelter, friends, and the street, but his case managers and WCH staff kept tabs on his well-being thanks to the Wichita Content Management Interoperability Services database and their street outreach team.
“We have great resources within our agency,” Sysavath explained, “including transitional living and permanent supportive housing, but also a collaborative of homeless service providers who work with us.”
Just as importantly, Tim came to WCH’s FYSB-funded drop-in center every single day, regardless of where he was staying. According to Sysavath, this daily effort helped cement the relationship between Tim and WCH staff during the tougher moments. “He had some outbursts, some mental health issues. He had to learn to cope with his anger, especially when his ID didn’t arrive when they said it would. There were ups and downs.”
At the end of the summer, WCH’s rapid rehousing team helped him find an apartment. Tim moved in on September 6, and will get help from WCH paying rent for up to six months, by which time he’s expected to support himself. A new manual labor job should help, and Tim has plans to get a college degree after that. But with WCH in his corner, he has a committed staff to match his own big goals.