Cal Young Neighborhood needs to better assist homeless youth population
Crossing the Willamette River, nestled in the Northeast corner of Eugene is the Cal Young Neighborhood. Residences driving north on Coburg Road, away from the University of Oregon campus, are reminded that this is not just a college town, but also their home.
By the numbers the Cal Young Neighborhood has the largest population percentage in Eugene at 14 percent. With a nationally acclaimed high school, plenty of stores and dining venues off Coburg Road and suburban neighborhoods the area has appeal.
Among this population, however, is a subculture of homeless and runaway teenagers. Drawn to Eugene for its temperate weather year round, they travel in packs or often alone, congregating under bridges, near the transit station, up Skinner’s Butte or down by the river.
Eugene has a multitude of resources for these struggling kids. The Safe and Sound Youth Project was a grant issued from 1999-2003 to fund programs that made sure that homeless and runaway youth could get help if they sought it. Services included health and safety education, outreach, shelter, case management, medical services, and links to additional community support.
Although facilities such as Looking Glass, St. Vincent de Paul, Planned Parenthood and others are scattered across Eugene, no resources for homeless adolescents are located in the Cal Young Neighborhood.
Located at Sheldon High School is a fully operational Health Center that serves all children in Eugene from birth to the age of 18. The Health Center gives well child and physical exams, supplies immunizations and can run lab tests. Staff includes a clinic nurse, a family nurse practitioner, and a mental health therapist. This resource is supported by the Eugene School District 4J, the State of Oregon and grants, which allows children and teenagers to be treated regardless of insurance or ability to pay. A reassuring fact to any student at Sheldon High School who may find themselves either homeless or “couch surfing” and still trying to finish their education.
Q&A: Officer John Savage
John Savage has been with the Eugene Police Department since February of 1999. He is currently a member of the School Resource Team, which assigns officers to the five high schools in the 4J Eugene School District. For the past six years he has been assigned to Sheldon High School in the Cal Young neighborhood.
Q: What are your primary jobs?
A: My primary job is to deal with all safety and criminal issues involving my area schools during normal school hours. I will also handle criminal issues that occur after hours like vandalism and overnight burglaries. Many cases are brought to our attention by students for events that occur off-campus or over the weekend. We will also assist area neighborhoods and businesses with student-related issues.
Q: Have you always worked with students/teenagers?
A: I worked patrol for my first six years and worked with students/teens incidentally when responding to calls around the city.
Q: Do you have any past experience with working with students/teenagers?
A: For six years prior to being an officer, I coached tackle football, ages ranging from 6th-9th grade. Two of those years were at Sheldon, coincidentally.
Q: Explain the homeless situation in the Sheldon community?Is it a problem? Has it been worse since the recession?
A: Yes, it is a problem. It is perceived to have gotten worse during the recession. There are increased stresses at home with finances. Making ends meet has become a larger problem than maybe at times in the past. Counselors have noticed more students coming forward admitting they are in need. More students are signing up for free or reduced lunches than before.
Q: How many students at Sheldon would you estimate are homeless?
A: It’s estimated there may be up to five homeless families at any given time with students who are still attending classes at Sheldon. Counselors have heard of families grouping together in one home or apartment to cut housing costs. The higher number is of individual students who are not living at home and are ‘couch surfing’ with friends. This can be for many reasons like voluntarily running away or parents essentially kicking them out of the house. We estimated those numbers to be much higher around 30-40. An unfortunate even higher number are the students who leave home and drop out of school entirely. Those students drop off our radar and are not accounted for.
Q: What resources does the school offer to homeless teens or families?
A: Sheldon has a charity auction each year called ‘Irish Night of Giving’ where they raise money to put in a fund to help with clothing, food and gift cards for students in need. School counselors advised of two government programs; Operation School Bell and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act that are used to help homeless students. The Sheldon Health Center used funds from the OSB to give vouchers for clothing, shoes and school supplies at the beginning of the school year.
Q: What do you personally do to help homeless students?
A: In my capacity as the officer here what I can do is help refer students to the Health Center and their counselors here to get the help they need. I often have students come to me to tell me situations at their home. I try to give them advice and guidance the best I can.
Q: What services are there in the community for students who are homeless?
A: The Station 7 Program is a 24 hour crisis intervention shelter operated by Looking Glass. Students who are runaways or in other crisis can be taken there voluntarily by the police or on their own. The 4J School District has an employee in the district office who is the homeless liaison to help families or individual students in need. She is called a ‘family transition specialist.’ Counselors here at Sheldon advise they receive donations from other families here at school. They also will do things like collect caps and gowns from a previous graduating class to help give to students in need the following year.
Profile: Mike Simpson
Teacher helps pave new road for at-risk youth
You can barely tell it’s there. It’s to the left of an abandoned home, that is all wired off. Leaves from last autumn are stuck in the swirling barbs, leaves that fell from the trees that are rooted in front of the Looking Glass New Roads Clinic and School. The structure is painted blue, but has mostly faded from the sun. A red fence around the small community garden is the only thing that draws attention to the building. Ironically passers cannot look through the glass as they walk by. Instead the windows reflect to see a person that needs a new start, a new road to the future.
Mike Simpson is the education supervisor, which he says is a fancy title meaning “lead teacher,” at the Looking Glass New Roads School. The New Roads School is an alternative setting for students who do not find success in the traditional school system. Their mission is to serve homeless, runaway and at-risk youth in the Eugene community and help to build a better future for these kids.
Simpson is an educator. His work can be considered a hard job, but it is also a “heart job.” Over the past four years he has seen hundreds of students go through the New Roads School. Along with an education, he is providing these teenagers with confidence for the future, passing along life skills and simply showing kindness. He feels that he owes them that. He says, “My young people have seen a life time of adult trials, they have already been through it. It’s refreshing to know that they are that resilient. They are young people that are affiliated with the streets, who are survivalist.”
Sixteen years ago businesses in the downtown Eugene area began to complain that the homeless youth hanging around the sidewalks and streets were deterring business. Business owners brought this to the attention of the 4J School District. They responded with the New Roads program to meet the need of the growing population of homeless youth.
The philosophy behind the school, Simpson says, is brilliant. “You don’t have to be here every day and you don’t have to be here all day.” Once the student is presented with the choice to attend school and is not forced, they start coming every day.
There is no set curriculum at New Roads. Students are taken where they are at in their educational experience and assessed on what they remember. Depending on student’s needs, they begin a specialized plan. More than half of the students at New Roads are working on completing their GEDs. Often the teen is too credit deficient to receive a high school diploma. But it is Simpson’s goal to at least try to get them to transition back into one of the 4J high schools.
Simpson did not believe that his career path would eventually lead him in this direction. He began working as a 6th grade teacher in Anchorage, Alaska. Later after traveling around the country, Simpson and his wife settled in Minnesota, where he had his first experience working with at-risk youth. He taught at an alternative-to-suspension program, which allowed kids who had been suspended from school to come in and work on social skills and perform community service instead of sitting on the couch at home all-day. He believes that his work in Minnesota helped pave the way for getting his job at New Roads in 2007.
Recently the school has seen an increase in enrollment. Whether that is attributed to outreach in the community or due to the major budget cuts in mainstream classrooms, Simpson is not quite sure. The only thing that he knows is certain is that New Roads School will be available as a resource to all students who need it.
Feature: How To Do Homework When You’re Homeless
Often students who are homeless have different priorities than undergraduates at University of Oregon. Homeless youth are trying to find out where they will call home tonight, where there next meal will come from, if they will get to shower anytime soon. Homework seems insignificant. Attending New Roads school students have to earn their homework, but how do they get it done with out internet, computers or other resources.
Cara England, clinical supervisor at New Roads, discusses the services the program provides for the homeless youth in the Eugene area.