With winter bearing down on Buffalo and the rest of the Great Lakes Snow Belt, a preseason flurry of good news has fallen for homeless youth in western New York state.
Almost $2.4 million in federal funds will soon flow into the state’s Erie and Niagara counties as part of a strategy to reduce the number of homeless youth living there. Over two years, the region will receive a total of $3.6 million.
Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo joined BestSelf and nonprofit organizations the Homeless Alliance of Western New York and Compass House this week to announce that Erie and Niagara counties were in line for the money.
Nationally, the youth homelessness demonstration project will distribute $75 million to help end youth homelessness. Experience has shown that young people often do not take advantage of traditional homeless services.
The money from the Department of Health and Human Services’ youth homelessness demonstration project was won through a competitive grant process. In western New York’s case, the money will go toward rapid rehousing, family counseling and a safe overnight overnight drop-in center in Buffalo — services that haven’t previously existed.
According to the Homeless Alliance of Western New York, people between the ages of 13 and 24 account for 17% of all homeless people in Erie County.
When the drop-in center opens, youth in that age group who suddenly find themselves with no permanent home will be able to stop in for whatever they might need: “Have a meal, talk to a peer, talk to a counselor or a nurse or whoever they need to speak to, and then link up through the family engagement program to much-needed housing resources in the community,” said Elizabeth Ganga, president and CEO BestSelf Behavioral Health. Hers is one of three groups that will provide services under the grant.
“This is an exciting time in Erie County, as I feel our runaway and homeless youth are finally getting all the services they need,” said Lisa Freeman, executive director of Compass House.
Compass House will receive $1.2 million for transitional housing programs for young men and women and a rapid rehousing program to help youth land their own apartment in their community.
BestSelf will use $594,000 on a Safe Space Overnight Drop-in Center where 16- to 24-year-olds can obtain food, clothing and other necessities as well as connect to support and housing services. BestSelf will also get $600,000 to offer family mediation and other support services to help youth quickly resolve their homelessness or divert them from experiencing homelessness. These services will be available to Erie County youth ages 12 to 24.
The Erie and Niagara region is one of just 44 communities across the nation awarded funding through HUD’s youth homeless demonstration program, according to Rep. Higgins’ office.