After several months of being closed, Casa de Belen reopened its doors Monday to provide shelter for transitional housing for Douglas County youth.
The center, which is in its 16th year of operation as a shelter, had shut down to get its financial situation straightened out and and do some renovations to the facility.
They are licensed through the Child Welfare Division of the Department of Human Services to serve 30 youth at current staffing levels. The licensing specifies the shelter can house only residents who are 20 and under.
The facility was previously marketed as a youth homeless shelter, but Executive Director Kiovanna Coccia says it was more of a family homeless shelter. She said it’s the only shelter in the county that youth under 18 can go to by themselves.
“We have completely revamped,” Coccia said. “The last seven months we’ve been on an intake freeze and a lot of that was looking at best practices on how to work with these youth and remove barriers and reach their goals.”
Much of the training with staff had to do with evidence-based behavioral management, positive youth development, collaborative problem solving and about the culture of Casa de Belen and how staff is expected to interact with the youth.
The goals are set by the youth themselves and those can change as they go through the program. When someone comes into the shelter, their first goals are to get the foundations of basic health care and also make sure they are attending school and keeping the grades up.
“School is always a top priority and then we’re evaluating mental health needs for counseling, or substance abuse needs, so we can bring our community partners in,” Coccia said. “A lot of what we do is empowering them to see hope for themselves and use their input and empower them toward their goals.”
It could mean that staff would meet with parents as mediators to get them connected to some services so the kids can end up going home, or maybe looking at higher education or job readiness.
The youth don’t have a specific amount of time they can stay, other than they have to leave by the time they turn 21. But they have to be taking steps toward their goals to be able to live there.
The building on Northeast Grandview Drive in Roseburg, has a common living room, a large dining room, a kitchen area, where residents can have their own food and learn cooking skills. They also have a clothing and shoe room where kids can find clean garments that have been donated. There is a library with a lot of recent books for the kids who are all required to go to school. There is a very popular arts and crafts room where many of the kids like to spend a lot of their time. A computer learning lab allows students to do school projects and other online activities. There is a room for school supplies and hygiene products and even a weight room where the youth can get daily exercise.
The large building, which used to house the Grandview Nursing home, has room for growth.
“I would love to expand, but with the size of the county, it might look like us being more mobile or in outskirt place where it’s hard to engage youth,” Coccia said.
The center offers day services for kids that don’t actually live there but the facility is available to them as a safe space. The kids can find help in getting on the Oregon Health Plan, have dinner, use the learning lab, take showers and do laundry.
“A lot of these kids don’t trust adults, every adult in their life has really harmed them,” Coccia said. “So if they come I want the drop the barriers and if something happens (to them) we’ve built a little trust so they can come to us and we can kind of pave that way.”
Coccia said there’s a misconception of homelessness that it’s the person downtown on the bench, but she said a homeless youth looks like a kid going to school.
“And it’s not talked about in the community but the notion of couch surfing and multiple kids and families in one house, it’s a much bigger epidemic than I think anyone’s talking about,” Coccia said.
More residents are in the 18 to 20 age range. Coccia says the cost of housing has a lot to do with that.
“Housing instability is mostly what we’re looking at,” Coccia said. “At-risk is if they’re using substances, mental health concerns, risky behavior and most teens are at risk, but the underlying foundation is inadequate or unstable housing.”
Coccia has seven the staff members who were just hired and went through a two-week training to get ready for the opening. The facility is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Now that the the reorganization has been done, the Casa de Belen board will start looking at fundraising efforts to sustain the program. There is no dedicated funding to the center, which lives off of grants and donations.
“Sustainability is our next challenge,” said Shelley Briggs-Loosley, a member of the Casa de Belen board. “Kivonna has done an excellent job of keeping costs down with good fiscal management, but you’ve got to have it to manage it.”