Homeless residents of Lane County are finding refuge and support through the efforts of many at Hosea.
By Randi Brown
It seems normal—a social young woman surrounded by a group of friends and a boyfriend. Her smile and laughter fill the room as she jokes with her co-workers. A textbook is open in front of her while she talks about attending school to be a nurse. She has her own apartment, which she describes with pride.
No one would think Amanda Alaniz, volunteer at Hosea Youth Services, would have started out going there for food, for clothing, for help.
“They gave me motivation,” Alaniz, 29, says about the Hosea Youth Services program, which offers a variety of help to the homeless youth of Eugene and Lane County. “I wanted a profession. I wanted stability; that’s been my biggest thing. Consistency was what I was looking for in life.”
Alaniz has been involved with the Hosea Youth Services for nearly 11 years—six of those have been as a volunteer.
How It Started
In 1997, a faith-based group of people including a caseworker, a shelter volunteer, a schoolteacher and others, started preaching and bringing coffee and food to kids on the street. These efforts led to the Eugene Evangelical Church located on 8th Ave. and Monroe St. lending their basement as a place to host a feeding program. Through word of mouth, news of the program spread among homeless teens and children. Eventually, this became the Hosea Youth Services. Now, Hosea helps hundreds of young adults and kids to gain stability and start their new lives.
The executive director of Hosea, Ken Harvey, began with his wife as legal guardians of over 800 teenagers before starting at Hosea. They worked with abused and abandoned youth at a shelter, as well as with youth ministries and churches throughout the area. This led to volunteer work with the “No More Rainy Nights” program, an extension of Hosea, which helped house and shelter the homeless.
What They Do
Hosea Youth Services’ mission statement is “To reduce chronic homelessness and unemployment among youth (ages 13 to 23).” They provide several different services to the vagrant youth in order to accomplish this.
The Drop-in Center is open from 5 to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and
provides basic needs for the homeless youth. This includes meals (homemade on Wednesdays, and “heat and eat” food from Food for Lane County on Mondays and Fridays). In addition, the Drop-in Center provides laundry and phone services, showers, clothing and shoes.
Mike Langley, the director of the Drop-in Center, was previously the manager at Glenwood Restaurant in Eugene, where he fed kids out of the backdoor of the establishment with leftovers.
In addition to the Drop-in Center, Hosea provides several other services:
- An emergency shelter seven days a week.
- Starter kits with things like toasters and microwaves to help set up an apartment for those beginning to live on their own.
- Guest speakers, educational seminars and trainings with youth workers and pastors to educate and provide community awareness.
- Vocational assistance, which includes job training, assistance in gaining employment, and providing of tools, transportation and food while on the job.
“I find satisfaction in training, equipping, encouraging, and supporting others,” Harvey says. “Most of all, I enjoy the relationships formed with the youth.”
On 6th Ave. and Adams St. is the Hosea Youth Services Thrift Store, which sells donated clothing items at low, affordable prices. The thrift store has housed a sewing program since January of 2010, as well as a bike repair shop, which is in the process of opening.
“These skills they’re learning here will help raise
their self-esteem,” says Jerome Jones, a volunteer at the thrift store.
Hosea also teams up with the Egan Warming Center to provide warm places to sleep during the cold weather for homeless youth.
Among the food, clothing, laundry and abundance of volunteers are a couple of quiet, smiling faces engaging in meaningful conversation with the youth.
In addition to all of the material items and services that Hosea Youth Services provides, they also have urban missionaries to spiritually guide the homeless youth.
Britni D’Eliso and Alec Woodward started at Hosea in August of 2011. In addition to the food Hosea gives out, the two were hired to offer “more of the spiritual nourishment,” D’Eliso says. “We’re available to connect on a more intimate level; we get to know their lives.”
D’Eliso has worked with the homeless for the past four years. She recently returned from a trip to Cambodia where she worked to lessen prostitution and human trafficking. Woodward moved to Eugene from Alabama less than a year ago with a group of peers to start a church.
“God just started breaking my heart,” Woodward says, referring to the homeless community in Eugene. As a result, he began working on his own, handing out food and socks to those in need. Soon after, Harvey invited him to work for Hosea.
The urban missionary job allows Woodward and D’Eliso to get to know the homeless youth.
“You have a choice of diving deeper and seeing why they are, the way they are,” D’Eliso says. “It involves being willing to hear what goes on in their life and not judging them. I’m gaining a better understanding and deciding to choose compassion over cynicism.”
Helping the Helpless
A young couple stops and talks to Alaniz before getting their dinner. It’s a normal conversation about life and love, full of laughs. There is no barrier between the homeless youth and the volunteers that serve them.
“We’re like a family here,” Alaniz says. “It’s a genuine love and care that we have for each other.”
With no regular funding, volunteers are what keep Hosea going. The kindness and genuine interest of the volunteers brings back youth night after night.
The organization sees between 200 and 300 volunteers per year between the Drop-in
Center, the Egan Warming shifts, and the thrift store. In addition, sports teams and service learning groups often volunteer at Hosea. And on any given night, half of these volunteers were once on the street.
Volunteers have helped Hosea to accomplish all that they have.
“At Hosea, every meal served is a success in itself,” Harvey says of the 7,000 to 8,000 meals served a year. “Every affirmation given to a young person that’s gotten abused or hasn’t been supported in their life—success. Every night of shelter is a success.”
In addition to these daily successes, Jones says he’s seen several successes in thrift store volunteers.
“Volunteering here can hold them together,” Jones says. “It keeps them from sitting on a sidewalk or on a bench. It helps them to build skills, and it’s something they can write down on an application. I try to make them realize, it is a resource. I’ve seen young CEO potential here.”
Against All Odds
Harvey’s eyes fill with tears as he remembers those who have come and left Hosea with a new lease on life (or stayed to pay it forward through volunteer work). As his voice becomes hoarse, he recounts a few success stories:
A woman who got her CNA and became a nurse; a man who got a job with a painting company; a young man from California who found a job; even a young girl who was saved from her abusive father thanks to Hosea. In addition, many youth have become volunteers at Hosea after gaining solid ground.
Harvey recalls a particularly painful memory of a young man who came to him to tell him about a new job. The boy said to him,
“It’s the first day I’ve ever had a real job.”
Harvey says the boy’s foot hurt, so he took off his shoes. Barely able to choke out the next part, Harvey describes how the boy had lost about an inch of his foot because of a train that he had tried to jump, with no money to buy a ticket. Harvey made sure the boy received medical care right away.
“I think all the time about the money and effort it took to get my son through school,” Harvey says, tears still welling in his eyes. “I think about all these other kids who haven’t had an adult advocate in their corner. They can’t get health care. We tell them to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps,’ but we see a lot of kids who don’t have the support to do that.”
He regains his composure and earnestly says, “You never know their story.”
Because of Hosea Youth Services, many are finding the support that has been lacking in their lives.
“It’s cool to see new positive things in this part of town,” says Zelman Charles Cramer, a customer at the Hosea Thrift Store. “There’s so many resources here, it’s absolutely amazing.”
There are many that have begun their new life and flourished because of Hosea Youth Services; many that have established a stabile and consistent life off of the streets.
For Alaniz, Hosea has helped her accomplish just that. With an apartment, a job, and a solid group of friends, she says with a certain confidence,
“I have steady ground, now.”