Breaking the Cycle

Local Organizations: St. Vincent de Paul’s Youth & Family Services

Medical Matters, Lane County Medical Society

Oregon has the highest rate of youth homelessness in the United States, according to a report recently released by the Portland Tribune, and that number is up for the fourth year in a row. Among the Eugene 4J, Bethel, and Springfield School Districts there are 1,848 youths who “lacked a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence” – homeless. This figure accounts for only a fraction of Lane County school districts, and does not include homeless children who are not in school. The need to address youth homelessness right at home is real. Eileen Chanti, Director of Youth and Family Services, and Stacey Yates, Youth House Program Manager of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County both work to change the lives behind these figures for the better.

St. Vincent de Paul has designed its programming to bring wrap-around services to children and families through its First Place Families daytime center, Family Night Shelter, and Youth House. The night shelter can house up to 20 families, and is equipped with transportation that both brings families to the annex in the evening, and shuttles children to school in the morning. The First Place Families center offers a much broader scope of services. The shelter itself has everything any family home would have—showers, kitchen, laundry machines—as well as a drop-in preschool and supported housing programs.

This faceted programing is in an effort to addressing every stage of homelessness. “It’s addressing a need for youth and children,” Chanti says. “Whether they are with a family and accompanied or not.”

For youths on the verge of adulthood, St. Vincent de Paul has opened a Youth House. Teenagers from the ages 16-18 who identify as female and are considered homeless qualify to live in the house for up to 24 months. “This is the first year that we’re open. This is a pilot project,” Yates says. “What sets it apart from other programs is that we have studio apartments that the girls can live in, and they sign a rental agreement, but they don’t pay rent. What that rental agreement does is give them renter’s rights and protections.” 

The Youth House program rules are tied to their rental agreement requirements. Breaking a program rule could lead to a lease violation as a way to tangibly connect the guidelines to everyday life. “We, of course, go through a lot of problem solving and they get a lot of warnings before they actually get a lease violation,” Yates says. “But it’s all a learning and teaching experience for them.”

“So many of the girls, they’ve been getting services for many years… It just hits home that poverty is a generational thing.”

- Stacey Yates, Youth House Program Manager

Yates notes that several of the girls that currently live at the Youth House received services when they were with their families from First Place Families. “So many of the girls, they’ve been getting services for many years—minor children who were living with their parents who were experiencing homelessness,” Yates says. “It just hits home that poverty is a generational thing.”

Given that the Youth House is so new, it has stirred up curiosity by community members. People are eager to ask how they can help and volunteer their time. Yates’ staff has hosted three volunteer orientations, with more than 30 people in attendance at each one. There are currently only eight girls living at the Youth House. While it’s exciting that the Youth House is garnering such positive attention, volunteers are still needed at other St. Vincent de Paul shelters.  

First Place is always in need of volunteers to help run the front desk, or organize the high volume of donations received in the Resource Room. The Night Shelter is constantly looking for volunteers who are can prepare, cook, and help serve dinner to families. “We also have a need for folks to come hang out at the Night Shelter program and at First Place Families Center that are serving as liaisons and advocates,” Chanti explains. “People who can model different ways of doing things or just chatting and getting to know the stories of families.”

These services have seen proven successful with their programming, and fueled by community help. According to Yates, since October 2018, 80% of the families who have used the Night Shelter have moved into stable housing after. “I think what we do really well is build relationships with people,” Chanti says. “We really try to provide wrap-around, continuous care so that all the people in our program are going to succeed. We do that with people—we want to empower our families and our youth to be self-activated.”