Shakeyla O’Cain,right, a rehousing coordinator at 3rd Street Youth Center and Clinic, works with client Nakiyah Kennard at the center in the Bayview on Wednesday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Center helps youth with health, housing issues

Following the death of her mother two years ago, 21-year-old Tiana Faataui and her brother were left alone

Following the death of her mother two years ago, 21-year-old Tiana Faataui and her brother were left alone in the four-bedroom Bayview District apartment that her family had shared.

But after her brother took his name off of the section 8 lease, Faataui was told she could no longer stay.

“I’m young so I’m still new to this and don’t really understand how any of this paperwork or housing goes,” said Faataui who quit her job to attend cosmetology school.

Faataui is one of more than 1,200 youths aged 12 through 24 who walk through the doors of the 3rd Street Youth Center and Clinic at 1728 Bancroft St. each year seeking help. On a recent Wednesday, a sign that read “3rd Street Safe Zone” was hung in one of the center’s windows, and inside colorful posters and art decorated two exam rooms and two therapy rooms.

Since 2005, the 3rd Street Center has provided free medical care to the neighborhood’s at-risk youth from health checkups, pregnancy tests to access to mental health therapy and social workers.

The center has just added housing to its list of ways it assists young people, becoming one of six Coordinated Entry Youth Access Points launching around The City.

Established under the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s (HSH) Coordinated Entry system and operated by community organizations, Youth Access Points help provide critical services and housing. Prior to May 1, one Access Point existed in San Francisco, and it serves adults only.

More than 1,300 youth were counted as homeless in San Francisco in 2017, prompting The City to double its investments in addressing the issue, said Abigail Stewart-Kahn, HSH director of strategic initiatives.

Preliminary data from a 2019 homeless count released on Thursday shows a 10 percent reduction in the number of youth experiencing homelessness, but youth service providers say that hundreds of young people, particularly those living in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty and violence like the Bayview, continue to fall through the cracks.

“Our homelessness looks different over here. Our youth come in [to the center], hair done, with their Jordans on, they’re looking fresh and fly and you wouldn’t know that they are sleeping on their mom’s or friend’s couch,” said Shakeyla O’Cain, a Rapid Rehousing Coordinator at the 3rd Street Center. “They come in, they are in their work uniforms, and you get the impression they can pay rent, when in reality they need more support.”

Lodged inside of established homeless youth service providers, the Access Points are aimed at meeting young people where they are at.

“We deal with turf issues where kids can’t cross different streets and stuff. That adds a different layer to how we can provide services. We can’t be stationary because some kids can’t come over here,” said Joi Jackson-Morgan, Executive Director at the 3rd Street Center.

“I think it’s important to have neighborhood-based services that feed into a larger system. That’s the first step here. Before, [the youth] would have to go to the Tenderloin or elsewhere to get services,” said Jackson-Morgan. “Now that we have these neighborhood Access Points I think we will be able to fill the needs of more youth, with culturally appropriate services, and I think it will make a difference.”

Prior to the roll out of the Coordinated Entry system, which aims to eliminate bias in the social services system by tracing individuals experiencing homelessness and tailoring services to them based on need, clients had to “go to every front door of different agencies and get on waiting lists,” said Stewart-Kahn.

“Their experience was based on how effective their case manager was not on their need,” she said.

Also, because young people had to trek across town to find the right services to meet their needs, many would not seek them out, some service providers said.

“Youth are especially good at hiding their homelessness, and I think we still have work to do to really reach [those who are] hiding in plain sight. The youth try to be invisible — It’s a different kind of work than what you might see in other populations,” said Ilsa Lund, chief of strategy at Larkin Street. “I think the Access Points will do a better job than if the services were located in one singular, centralized place.”

The youth specific Access Points are operated by Larkin Street Youth Services and Huckleberry Youth, and in partnership with the Homeless Youth Alliance and the 3rd Street Youth Center and Clinic.

There, the young clients meet with social workers and counselors for an initial “problem solving conversation,” which aims to divert them away from homelessness by using city funds to help address simple barriers, like a late rent payment or unpaid bill that would otherwise result in eviction or serious conflict for the client.

“For youth, problem solving might also mean family reunification. Some are fleeing violence and rejection from their home communities,” said Stewart-Kahn.

Should the youth face problems that can’t be resolved quickly, the next step is an assessment of what resources are available to them based on their vulnerabilities, the length of time they’ve experienced homelessness, and their barriers to finding housing.

Working alongside counselors, most of whom have shared the same cultural and economic experiences as their clients, the youth are then referred to appropriate housing resources, including lists of available permanent supportive housing and The City’s Rapid Rehousing program.

O’Cain called the Access Points a “game changer.”

“It’s wraparound services. You can come here to get a physical, a pregnancy test and also get help with your housing and also find a job or get involved in youth development or youth leadership opportunities,” said O’Cain, a Bayview native who was homeless for eight years. “For a long time young people kept coming to us and would say, “‘I need help with housing.’ Before you can address all of the other health issues, stability is the main issue.”

“Before they can start talking about their traumas, they need a place to stay,” she said.

Still, gaps remain. According to Jackson-Morgan, outpatient psychiatric services for young people are still not readily available, and neither are shelter beds.

“How we deal with young people coming in and just needing to stay at a place for one day?” she said.

And with the need for housing critically outpacing The City’s supply, not every youth who makes contact with a social worker is guaranteed a placement.

While many homeless youth also have access to the adult shelter system, The City currently funds just 62 youth -specific shelter beds, as well as 285 transitional housing exits, 145 supportive housing exists and 108 rapid rehousing exits for youth, according to Stewart-Kahn.

“For every one person we exit from homelesness three more people become homeless in their place.”

For some, the services provided by the 3rd Street Center Access Point have already begun to make a difference.

On Wednesday, O’Cain discussed 20-year-old Nakiyah Kennard’s impending relocation to Oakland through a 3rd Street Center housing subsidy program, where she is eventually hoping to take over a lease on an apartment of her own.

“I don’t mind moving to the East Bay,” said Kennard. “I’m ready to get away from San Francisco.”

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A welcome sign greets visitors at the front entrance of the 3rd Street Youth Center and Clinic in the Bayview District on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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