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Helping At-Risk Youth Find Their Place

As our Sioux Empire continues to grow there are major impacts on our low income families, especially on our at-risk youth.  As of March 2019, 900 homeless youth were identified in Sioux Falls, 40 of these students were unaccompanied, meaning they are not in physical custody of a parent or guardian. An additional 14 students were identified as homeless in Brandon and 10 students in Harrisburg.

As the community grows, so does income inequality and the waitlist for affordable housing, but the biggest impact is substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse, and neglect within a young adult’s home. If a teen feels unsafe in their own home, they are more likely to run away and take the risk of being homeless in order to escape from the immediate painful situation in hopes to find a safer place.

Many of these young adults try to find a place in the community. Whether that is to continue their education or find full time employment, they struggle keeping up when they have no safe place to call home. For the last 18 years, Volunteers of America, Dakotas has been able to provide housing, case management, life skills, employment education assistance, and aftercare services for youth ages 16-21. In 2018, they served 33 youth.

The staff at VOA, have worked effortlessly on creating new ways to better serve, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Managing Director of Children, Youth, & Family Services, Stephanie Monroe, was recently recognized for her continuation of positive change by strengthening relationships and meeting people where they are at, through the Sioux Empire United Way Larry Oppold Award. Stephanie excels at raising others to their potential.

Research has shown that providing individuals experiencing homelessness with housing not only helps them, but it is a more cost effective solution for the community. From this assistance, there is savings from health care services, less jail/prison intakes, and less emergency shelter guests. These costs exceed the help these young adults are receiving and the long term effect exceeds this even more! Most communities see a reduction of cost associated with homeless by 35%.

Volunteers of America, Dakotas, created Axis 180, a holistic approach to preparing young people ages 16-21 years for a successful transition from homelessness to independence through housing. The program is designed to help these troubled youth find self-sufficiency, prevent long-term dependency on the social services system, and provide an option for older youth who need assistance in transitioning into adulthood.

Case management is a big piece in success of these young adults within Axis 180. A young adult enrolled in the program is paired with a case manager to work on life skills while receiving help furthering their education and finding employment. Through the help of program staff, all young adults on the waiting list for Axis 180 housing also receive on-going case management. Stephanie led the re-organization of the program to make this possible to help all youth who come to them for assistance. The program has made an undeniably positive impact on the most vulnerable youth in our community. Over the last year, Stephanie and her staff have made life-changing impacts on the lives of over 600 people.

Individuals begin the program by completing the Ansell Casey Life Skills Assessment to help determine which areas they need assistance with. Skills can include daily living, house and money management, work/study life balance, and more. Together with their case manager they set goals, discuss strengths and challenges, and make action steps to help them move toward self-sufficiency. Many of the teens enrolled are unable to reunite with their family due to unsafe situations or have no family at all. These young adults are looking for a stronger, better future then what they have had or seen.

Participants are required to pay monthly rent or can earn rent credit which is later returned to them upon completion of the program to help set them up for their own place of living. Most participants stay with the program 9-12 months and continue to meet with their case manager for up to 6 months after completion to help them stay on track and be able to contribute back to the communities they live in.

Volunteers of America, Dakotas will soon be able to expand their housing availability to provide 21 housing units for young adults. Your gift to Sioux Empire United Way provides the critical care needed for these young adults during a transitional time in their life.

Stephanie Monroe receiving her award at Sioux Empire United Way's 2019 Thank You Event.