YES Offers Kids Safe Harbor
Youth Emergency Services Witnesses Growing Need Among Homeless
BY JILL BRUCKNER
In the bleak undertow that is youth homelessness, Youth Emergency Services (YES) offers safe harbor in managing the sometimes murky waters of self-reliance.
Maybe that’s why empowering the area’s homeless youth is the primary goal of YES, a service agency that both encompasses—and imparts—compassion.
“I don’t believe most of Omaha is even aware that there are homeless youth in their community,” says Mary Fraser Meints, executive director of YES. “The youth we see come from all over our community. We serve youth from Millard to North Omaha to Council Bluffs and Southwest Iowa. These are our youth. These kids aren’t all bad kids on the fringe of society. They are young people who may have had parents that made bad choices, or youth who never had a stable family to rely on.”
According to Nebraska Appleseed, “the age range of [the youth homeless] population is typically considered to be somewhere between 12 and 21.” On a single winter night, as many as 51 percent of homeless youth [in Nebraska] may have once been part of the state’s foster care system.
That’s not all. Meints says the population of area homeless young people is growing. “We have seen an 80 percent increase over the last year, mostly in our Street Outreach Program,” she says.
It is this growing need, as well the organization’s heartfelt mission, that helped YES earn a $5,000 Women’s Fund Community Impact Grant this year.
“The grant monies will be used to provide financial literacy classes for the youth that go through our transitional housing programs,” Meints says. “It will pay for the instructor and materials and provide an incentive for the youth to complete the courses and earn money that they can put away and watch grow.”
While the literacy push is a foundational part of YES activities, the agency provides additional services, as well.
“The mission of YES is to serve homeless and at-risk youth by providing critically-needed resources, which empower them to become self-sufficient,” Meints explains. “Empowerment is the key. We do not solve every problem for every youth, but we do offer skill-building and resources that they can choose to use to help themselves. Also, being there when they need us most is very important.
In fact, YES offers at-risk and homeless young people emergency shelter, crisis- management and street-outreach services, transitional living programs, mentoring, maternity group-housing and more.
Services are designed to meet youth “where they are” and empower young people to understand themselves, their needs and their unique capabilities—skills that will allow them to grow personally, with the support they may not have received in the isolation that characterizes homelessness.
“If people do not know there is a problem, it will not get fixed,” Meints says, adding community involvement is key to empowering the youth YES serves. For example, she says, “we serve between 600 to 900 meals a month to young people at the Street Outreach Center, and we don’t have a stove or oven. Community groups, church groups and families bring meals, and we are able to keep the meals warm.”
In the end, it is the youth who feed the souls of YES. “I am inspired by the youth every day,” Meints says. “They are resilient. They overcome so many obstacles that many adults would struggle with. And they have hope. They want a better tomorrow for themselves.”
Want to help? Youth Emergency Services’ Street Outreach Center is open Monday through Friday in the afternoons and evenings. Reach the agency at (402) 345-5187, or use the Safe Place Hotline: (402) 578-7233. Applications for YES Transitional Living Housing Program and Maternity Group Home are on the organization’s website: www.yesomaha.org.
This is part of a series of articles on nonprofit agencies that have received Women’s Fund grants. The Intercultural Senior Center received $5,500 for Threads of Life. Find out more about Women’s Fund grants at www. omahawomensfund.org.