Homeless shelter for area youth

by Eric A Thomas

Midwest Youth Services (MYS) had been seeing an increase in homelessness among the at-risk and runaway youth of the area. The pandemic shed a broader light on an already tough situation.

Over the course of the year, Ann Hungerford, executive director of MYS, and the members of the board of directors, began seriously exploring options for an on-site emergency shelter for program youth. Hungerford had a vision and with the board’s support, they began transforming the lower level of their facility. The addition to their program is called the Porch Light Project, which fulfilled a long-time goal of Hungerford’s.

Elaborating on the choice of the name, Hungerford explains, “Our name for the shelter originated from a Midwestern tradition of keeping an oil lamp or candle burning for visitors traveling. The light would be extinguished once all are in and safe for the evening.” So, they installed a new LED sign on the south side of their building. It is well lit and will stay on for all program youth in need of a short-term shelter. While the shelter’s physical transformation has been completed, they are currently working with state licensing to secure their “Youth Emergency Shelter” license. Once that process is complete, they will proceed to work on policy, procedure and staffing. The age range for the shelter will be 14-18.

MYS has a 24/7 crisis response team. They receive crisis calls from law enforcement, schools, probation, hospitals or other community resources. A response team member responds and will work with the initiating entity, the youth and the family or guardian to evaluate and assess the situation. Each case is unique and if an emergency shelter placement is appropriate, a MYS crisis worker will initiate the intake.

Their facility is located at 2001 W. Lafayette Ave. in Jacksonville. The main business level houses MYS programs, staff and vaulted storage. The Porch Light Project is on the lower level and has a separate entrance, staircase and remodeled facilities. The two areas are securely separated and will remain that way. Additional security features have been installed throughout. The shelter features two dormitories with fixed beds, but they do have the ability to add rollaway beds. It also has a case manager’s office, a laundry facility, shower/

restroom, conference room with video technology, youth computer lab and vaulted storage.

The overall agency underwent a name change in 2002. Previously known as the Youth Attention Center, it was renamed Midwest Youth Services. The programs they do are 100% free and confidential for clients. They service the counties of Morgan, Cass, Schuyler, Brown and Scott. Once someone is placed or enrolled with the program, shelter needed or not, he or she qualifies for three months of aftercare services. Each client will receive an assigned case manager who will assess their specific needs. These assessments will lead to an individualized plan and goals will be set. Case managers also provide follow-up to youth at 3, 6, and 12 months to ensure that they are doing well or assist them with barriers.

The staff at MYS work with approximately 300 youth and families a year and 200 or more of them are 18 years or younger. “We definitely have a homeless problem among the youth. They are couch hopping from house to house or living in condemned or unsafe housing. They are just trying to survive and not stick out while doing so. All of them need us,” Hungerford concludes.

“It is our job to get to the root of the issue and look past the troubling behaviors and choices. My staff have a passion for serving them and do it well. I am blessed to have the team and board that I do. Without them, Midwest Youth Services would not be what it is today.”

Following approval and licensure, they hope to host an open house for the community. It will be an opportunity for people to see the completed project and ask questions. MYS is a licensed child welfare agency through the State of Illinois and is a 403C3 nonprofit organization. They utilize state, federal and donated dollars from individuals and organizations to sustain programming. Tax-deductible contributions may be made to Midwest Youth Services, Shelter Project, 2001 W. Lafayette Ave., Jacksonville, IL 62650. For more information about their services, check their website at www.mys-kids.org or call 217-245-6000.

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