Goodwill Industries and Sacramento County are providing a combined $60,000 in seed funding to reopen Wind Youth Services’ shelter for the region’s homeless adolescents, but nonprofit and government leaders are asking the community to match the gifts to keep the operation going this year.
Wind operates two shelters for youths in the Rancho Cordova area – one serving clients from 12- to 18-year-old students and the other serving high school graduates from 18 through 24. The nonprofit suspended service to its youngest clients Feb. 19, but reopened it March 10 after Goodwill got the funding rolling with a $10,000 challenge gift.
On Tuesday, Sacramento County supervisors appropriated $50,000. Wind receives a federal allocation to help run the shelter for its youngest clients, said Suzi Dotson, the agency’s executive director, but that allowance is the same in all 50 states despite differences in wages and other costs.
“We always run the adolescent shelter at a deficit,” she said. “We look for community donations to supplement that. This year, they just weren’t there.”
Dotson, who regularly consults and networks with other local nonprofit leaders, called Joseph Mendez, president and chief executive of the Sacramento Valley and Northern Nevada territory of Goodwill Industries, to alert him to the closure.
Mendez said Goodwill offers job training and employment opportunities to a number of the youths whom Wind serves, and when he got Dotson’s call, he said, “What’s it going to take to get the shelter back open and get these kids off the street?”
Within days, he said, he found enough funding for Dotson to reopen the shelter, and he began placing calls to corporate leaders. Dotson and Mendez also contacted County Supervisor Phil Serna, who has long supported their organizations. He brought the matter to the attention of the county’s executive staff since he and his fellow supervisors were scheduled to hear a second-quarter budget status report.
“Wind is one of the few local service providers who offer resources to help our community’s homeless young people.” Serna told me. “A closed youth shelter does little to advance that mission. As far as I’m concerned, the county has a role to play in stabilizing and making sustainable Wind’s operation.”
Goodwill has stepped up to assist Next Move with building out its emergency shelter for homeless families, and it also provided funding for Community Link’s 2-1-1 help line for people in need of assistance from social service agencies.
Goodwill raises the bulk of its $80 million budget from sales at its 26 stores in the region, Mendez said. Each Goodwill territory has the autonomy to decide how it wants to use funds raised in its community.
Most of Goodwill’s revenue goes toward operating its stores and training disadvantaged and disabled people to work, Mendez said. Last year, the organization’s board changed its mission from providing vocational access to people with disabilities to using its resources to assist people to achieve self-sufficiency.
“We’ll continue with not only our core mission of vocational access to people with disadvantages and disabilities, but also to work on collective impact to solving social problems in the territory we serve,” Mendez said. “We’re looking at poverty and hunger and having a community strategy, as opposed to just a pure organizational strategy.”
Mendez said he doesn’t want to see an organization like Wind struggle because it’s the only organization in Sacramento that helps this particular population, a group that is vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation and predation. Dotson said she always had the goal of finding funds to reopen the facility.
Wind’s counselors go out and find youths on the streets, offering them tarps, blankets and other survival supplies, Dotson said. After seven visits or so, she said, they gain credibility with a group whose life experiences have taught them that adults can’t always be trusted. Then, she said, youths will typically respond to the workers’ invitation to come by the organization’s drop-in center, on the third floor of the building at 1722 J St.
Once they do, Dotson’s team begins to work with them on reunifying them with their families, she said, and they are successful 93 percent of the time for those ages 12 to 18. She said kids typically leave home because of an unresolved conflict, abuse, neglect, extreme poverty or because their parents refuse to accept their gay, lesbian or transgender lifestyle.
“It’s not always returning to their parent,” Dotson said. “It could be, ‘Do you have an aunt who is willing to let you come live with them?’ I just bought bus tickets recently for a couple of youths who had a sister in Arizona who said, ‘Please send them to me, and I will take care of them.’ ”