Country radio twangs behind a cracked door. Smiley face-trimmed bulletin boards cover the walls around a large pool table at the center of the room.
At the table sits an impassioned woman speaking about how she works to help a small fraction of San Antonio’s 8,000 homeless teens, many of whom don’t know where they’re going to sleep or eat next.
Youth Alternatives and StandUP for Kids are two organizations set up to assist San Antonio’s homeless youth. While many of the 8,000 return home within a week, the others often need long-term accommodations and care that go far beyond the provision of a couch to sleep on for a night or two.
While some of the youth who arrive at Youth Alternatives are runaways, many have been removed from domestically violent circumstances by Child Protective Services. Some arrive by plane in the middle of the night; others are brought in by San Antonio police.
“Our goal is to give them a safe place to live,” said Rebecca Durand, senior program director at Youth Alternatives. “But it’s also teaching them that they don’t have to go through that same cycle.”
Youth Alternatives is divided into two programs, the Bridge Emergency Shelter, which is geared toward meeting the needs of young people ages 5 to 17, and TurningPoint, which acts as a transitional program for those aged 17 to 21.
“I think the little ones are harder to deal with,” Durand said, adding that some come in with habits like hiding bread away at meals in case there isn’t enough later, and throwing things when they get upset.
“We try not to get attached, but it’s hard,” she said.
All of the kids attend regular classes while at the shelter and participate in activities such as movie nights. Older kids keep themselves busy doing things like playing video games. Durand said the girls, like most teens, like to do their hair and nails.
Those in the TurningPoint program have jobs, learn to fill out job applications, attend college, manage their finances, are expected to do chores, and even pay small amounts of living fees in preparation for eventually leaving the program.
Youth Alternatives can house up to 63 youth at a time, but generally it is not full.
“Right before Christmas, we get bombarded with phone calls,” Durand said. “Those students are going to be homeless for the holidays.”
Another program, StandUP for Kids, is designed to help eliminate some of the causes of teen homelessness.
Executive Director Janet Grigsby said teens need identification and an education to build a life for themselves.
By helping teens get forms of identification, they can secure a job and begin studies for a GED or diploma. Grigsby said the group is well-connected with GED programs in the area and helps teens complete the program.
“We keep them moving and keep them going because sometimes they can get frustrated and want to quit,” Grigsby said.
She said StandUP for Kids helps out anyone 17 to 25 and sends minors to different programs because leaving a child helpless isn’t an option for them.
The group has weekly street outreaches to tell people who they are and what they do. They also open their doors once a month for youth drop-ins so the teens can play games together and not have to worry about that night’s meal. However, StandUP for Kids does not provide shelter.
“We want the youth to make a way to stay off the streets, but we do help them with apartment support,” Grigsby said.
Apartment support is offered to those interested in having a place of their own but who may not be able to afford one. They’re given loans and a little extra funds when money gets tight.
Recipients of the apartment support are able to live and work like average citizens, she said.
“It doesn’t just help the child, it helps the entire community,” Grigsby said. “I would never turn a blind eye when a kid needs my help.”
Grigsby and Durand share a common goal: Don’t let any child be homeless.
For more information on how to help homeless teens, go to standupforkids.org or rmya.org.