Youth Connect Extends Hand to Homeless Youth

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday April 11, 2006

Eye check-ups topped the list of “to-do things” for homeless kids attending Berkeley’s “Youth Connect” event at the Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel (YEAH!) on April 3. 

Piper, a regular at YEAH!, had attended the event primarily for the free eye check-ups and the glasses that were to follow on Friday. 

Out of the more than 20 who got their eyes checked for free that evening, 11 of them received free glasses from Lens Crafters last Friday morning.  

“Our Executive Director Sharon Hawkins Leyden went and picked up the glasses on Friday morning and the kids got them at 10 a.m. They were all very happy to receive new glasses and are wearing them right now,” said Terri Fletcher, case manager and supervisor for YEAH!  

Minors who were present for check-ups at the Berkeley Mental Health booth that day have also been assigned case managers for weekly check-ups. Out of the 60 kids who attended the event, six will be receiving free weekly check-ups. 

Robert Myers, who receives housing vouchers to stay in an Oakland hotel through a mental health program, had his prescriptions refilled at the medical clinic and received new lenses last week. 

The free day passes picked up from the YMCA will now help kids to access the gym when they want to.  

Those who were deemed eligible to receive bus passes under AC Transit’s disability or youth quotas had their passes mailed to YEAH! last week. They now need to take their passes to AC Transit in downtown Oakland and pick up the pass stickers before they can start using them.  

Medical appointments were made at Lifeline Clinic in Berkeley. 

Alameda County’s general assistance program is giving out government aid in the form of food stamps and cash to minors who signed up for it.  

“Many housing programs require a percentage of your income in order to become eligible. Since most kids don’t have any kind of income the cash helps them to take care of it,” Fletcher told the Planet. 

Although the amount does not usually go over $450, it is need-based and varies from person to person. The follow-up for this kind of government public aid to the kids will be carried out this week, added Fletcher. 

Berkeley Library cards were also handed out that day. 

Julie Sinai, senior aide to Mayor Tom Bates and one of the event co-ordinators, told the Planet that the ultimate goal for the Youth Connect event was “to follow up on the services performed that day.”  

“We want to utilize this opportunity to connect with as many service providers as possible,” she said. “This is the first tIme we are all coming together under one roof. Instead of having to go to each of these providers, the providers are coming to the kids. This is the first of its kind in Berkeley.” 

“We got to connect, to see the faces behind the names, to know who’s doing what,” said Marcela Smid, a UC Berkeley grad student and a volunteer for the Suitcase Clinic. “The three most important things were perhaps vision, HIV, and dental check-ups. Veternary care for the kids’ pets came a close second.” 

The idea for Youth Connect originated when Bates visited YEAH! last January. 

“After talking to kids, Mayor Bates realized what their concerns were, what it was that they wanted to see,” Cisco De Vries, chief of staff to the mayor, told the Planet. “Needs such as veterinary care for the kids’ dogs is often overlooked. But we talked to service providers and made sure that all these things were included. We plan to host Youth Connect at least three to four times a year. The service providers are very enthusiastic about it and we might even include new services next year. We will continue talking to young people to learn how things worked out for them and how we can help them even more.” 

Mayor Bates’ office coordinated with YEAH!, the Suitcase Clinic, Fred Finch Youth Center and the City of Berkeley departments of Housing, and Health and Human Services to set up the event. It was co-sponsored by assemblywoman Lori Hancock and Supervisor Keith Carson. 

Youth Connect is modeled on a San Francisco-based youth connect program. YEAH! is also working with Mayor Tom Bates’ office on a project called “Homeward Bound,” which reunites homeless kids with their families if it is deemed appropriate to do so.  

Monday was a sad day for YEAH! as it marked the end of the winter shelter program that had housed almost 40 street kids every night since last November. 

“Some of the kids will be seeking shelter at Dwight Way Women’s Shelter, the others at the Fred Finch Youth House, and a few more at Harrison House,” Fletcher told the Planet. 

Although arrangements were being made to provide long-term housing services to kids at YEAH! for sometime now, the Youth Connect event played an important role in providing placements to those who wanted it.