It’s not all fun and games at the Adeline Youth Service Center, though it appeared that way Wednesday afternoon at a summer barbecue.
Over brimful plates with coleslaw and barbecue ribs, young adults and their youth counselors, with the Homeless Youth Collaborative, reflected on the Adeline Street organization’s four years of struggles and successes. The mission – to keep kids from living on the streets.
“They gave me a place to stay and helped find me a job, and I’m not just saying this – I’ve got to go to work at 3 o'clock today,” said Michael Grayson, 18, who one month ago had little driving him but petty crime and a marijuana-smoking habit.
“I was getting into a lot of trouble,” Grayson said. “I’m clean now. I’m not saying I’m perfect but I’m back on my feet.”
HYC is a coalition of five nonprofit organizations in Berkeley and Oakland, with a small arsenal of local day centers and temporary housing facilities.
The coalition is currently working with about150 homeless youth like Grayson.
Not everyone’s story, though, is as happy as Grayson’s.
Part of the reason for Wednesday’s HYC barbecue, dubbed “Jade’s Memorial,” is the mysterious death of a 19-year-old client, Jade Shepperd.
The mentally ill Oakland woman, who often stayed with family in south Berkeley when she was not living in transitional housing, was found dead in Oakland earlier this month. Police are uncertain of the cause of death and are still investigating.
“She would be fascinated by this tribute,” said James Bailey, a youth outreach specialist with HYC. “We’re honoring her today, and trying to have a good time and eat some barbecue.”
HYC Mental Health Specialist Barbara Britton said that the small yard behind the Adeline Service Center, where more than 50 youth gathered for the barbecue, was a favorite place for Shepperd.
“She use to come here a lot and spend the day. She did her painting and writing,” Britton said. “Just like a lot of the kids, she had no place else to go.”
The Adeline Street drop-in center is one of three locations in Oakland and Berkeley where people13 to 25 can go when times get bad and they have no recourse.
The centers, two of which are in Berkeley, are staffed with substance abuse counselors, mental health specialists and career and education counselors. They also provide basics like food and toilets.
Each center serves as a dispatch center where the youth are assessed and referred, if not into HYC programs, to other nonprofit and public services. The majority of funding comes from the federal government, though both the cities of Berkeley and Oakland contribute to the collaboration.
Also enjoying barbecue Wednesday afternoon was Doneal Reese, 22. The Berkeley resident came into the program with no place to live and in poor health, suffering from HIV.
“When I first got here, I had a lot of the virus in my body. They found me ways to get medication and help,” said Reese.
This week, after living in transitional housing on and off for three years, Reese signed a lease for his own apartment.
Berkeley resident Darnell Ruffin, 23, is hoping for similar success.
Ruffin got fired from his job with a Richmond-based shuttle service last month, and couldn’t afford rent. He found his way to the center on Adeline Street.
“It all happened so abruptly and I didn’t have any savings,” he said. “This will be a place for me to get things back together.”
The Adeline Youth Service Center is at 3334 Adeline St., 652-4411.