In the third-floor headquarters of Wind Youth Services on Friday, two young men sat in front of computers while a young woman napped on a nearby couch. Three other young people played dice at a table. Donated clothing hung on a wall, and boxes of food sat on the floor.
It was quiet and safe and just the kind of environment most people would hope exists for homeless youths in this city. But it’s coming with a price.
Midtown businesses and residents have noticed a major increase in what they’ve described as unsavory behavior in the four months since Wind moved its operation to an office at 18th and J streets. They’ve reported pot-smoking teens and fights. Some have snapped photos of young men in sleeping bags blocking sidewalks. There was a burglary at the Wind office earlier this month.
This is a tense situation. Business leaders don’t seem to know exactly how to handle their new neighbors. It’s not that midtown is unsympathetic to the people Wind serves – the Midtown Business Association spends nearly a third of its budget on homeless outreach. They’re just not crazy about how Wind is handling its business.
Wind is likely the largest organization in the city providing services to people ages 12 to 24 who are homeless or on the verge of being homeless. Last month, the organization gave food, mental health counseling and temporary shelter to more than 150 young people.
Other organizations focus on housing, while Wind uses a drop-in model that some service providers criticize. Wind’s office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the group has access to only 12 temporary shelter beds. That means dozens of its clients live on the street.
“There’s a new influx of transients in midtown who are not being well managed because they’re not being provided services during key hours,” said Emily Baime Michaels, head of the midtown business group. “And the general comments we’re receiving is that people feel unsafe as a result of the activity.”
Wind said it tells its clients to be good neighbors but also makes the argument that the organization shouldn’t be blamed. It’s trying to help. And homeless youths were in midtown long before Wind moved from North Sacramento.
“We need to accept that these are community members,” said Wind’s director of programs, Erica Fonseca.
Wind moved to midtown because that’s where the need for its service is concentrated. And if it moved somewhere else, those services would become less accessible.
This is all about location. Wind is operating in a visible part of midtown, near boutiques and restaurants. The homeless have been there all along, but so have many of the businesses.
Only one thing seems clear: Wind, and the young people it serves, has to be somewhere.
Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat.