More Street Roots Programs:

Youth outreach programs awarded city support

Staff Reports

Janus Youth, one of the cornerstone organizations behind Portland’s Homeless Youth Continuum, is among several grantees receiving relief funding through the city of Portland’s one-time $1 million pool. (The city is expected to announce next week all of the groups who received money from the $1 million. See Proposals sought for $1 million for homeless programs.)

The funding fills a gap to keep the organization’s high-risk youth outreach and engagement program operating for the next year. The details of the award were not known as of press time, but it comes at a critical time for Janus and the entire Homeless Youth Continuum.

On Sept. 30, Janus learned that it would not receive a key federal grant that paid for its high-risk outreach work.

Since the early 1990s, Janus Youth received $100,000 a year through the Street Outreach Program of the Federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. The Portland-based organization was among the first grantees of the program, which paid for two full-time outreach workers for high-risk youths. Janus has been funded in every 3-year cycle for the grant until this fall.

“This is basically the door into the system for these kids and it’s the one that is most needed,” says Janus Executive Director Dennis Morrow. “There is no place in the state where you have this concentration of the population. Not to fund it here doesn’t make any sense from a federal service strategy.”

Janus Youth was established in 1972 and provides multiple services for homeless youth, ages 13 to 24, including health care, shelter, transitional housing, family reunification, and emergency, school and employment assistance. Morrow says they make about 20,000 contacts a year, and see between 120 and 150 new kids each month. “And those are just the ones we’re seeing,” he says.

The high-risk outreach of Janus reaches youths who were more difficult to coax back to the system. The outreach workers also became an ongoing resource for the youths as they navigated the system. It employs two full-time outreach workers.

The Homeless Youth Continuum, which includes Janus Youth, New Avenues for Youth, Outside In and the Native American Rehabilitation Association, applied for the grant from the $1 million allocation made available by the city to relieve capacity strains among homeless services. The $1 million has been earmarked for organizations and agencies delivering homelessness prevention, outreach, housing placement, rent assistance and income acquisition services.

Morrow says the decision on the federal grant is surprising and uncharacteristic, and after reviewing the comments from the private firm that rated the grant, it appears that gross errors were made. This is the first time this particular rating company reviewed the grants.

“At this point, it’s very disturbing, because it’s very clear from the comments from the raters that they completely misread or did not see large sections of the grant that were very explicit. So to me, there’s no doubt there were mistakes made in the rating.”

Morrow said the work now is to get those errors corrected and to secure funding for the 2011 cycle.

“The big picture is that every homeless youth agency right now is being slammed by the number of youths on the street and the severity of the issues they’re bringing in,” Morrow says.

Morrow says the increase of youths on the streets is likely due to several factors related to the recession, which has displaced families, often prompting the oldest child to leave an already stressed environment. The economy has also meant a sharp decline in the number of entry-level jobs available to youths.

“When you don’t have entry level jobs, that basically stops the flow of kids through the system,” Morrow says. As a result, young adults are unable to secure the economic resources to move out of transitional housing, creating a backlog in shelters and an overflow onto the streets.

“Every resource in the community right now is pretty full,” he says. Janus’ own emergency shelter, Porchlight, provides 30 beds for youths without homes. It opens at 9 p.m. on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s been filling up by 9:10, Morrow says.