How the California Wellness Foundation is Keeping Homeless Teens Safe

There are between 1,700 and 2,000 homeless teenagers in Oakland and Alameda County. Teenagers in the Bay Area go homeless for a number of reasons. Some run away from violent and abusive family members, some have been thrown out for their behavior, and others are foster children with no true family at all.

Although there are just about as many homeless teenagers in San Francisco, there is a serious shortage of homeless shelters in the Oakland area. “To be a homeless teenager is to be a trafficked teenager,” says Amba Johnson, director of local shelter, DreamCatcher. “Sixty percent of trafficked youth were homeless at the time they were first approached by a commercial sex exploiter,” she adds, citing national statistics.

The California Wellness Foundation (CWF) has stepped in to get kids off the streets and into a safe place. (Read: California Wellness Foundation: Bay Area Grants). The Bay Area health funder awarded two $150,000 operating support grants to Alameda Family Services to get the DreamCatcher Emergency Youth Shelter up and running. CWF continues to support counseling and support services at the shelter, which is aimed at 13-18 year olds. Here's what DreamCatcher provides to homeless and runaway teens:

  • Lunch and dinner
  • Laundry service
  • Crisis counseling
  • Health education workshops
  • HIV and STD testing
  • Contraceptives
  • Academic tutoring
  • Job and computer training
  • Transportation and bus passes
  • Recreation, artistic, and social activities

Beyond the basics, DreamCatcher gives teens a safe, warm place to relax on the couch and enjoy a home-cooked meal with peers. “This is like a youth hangout place to me. It's our place,” says one teenager who goes to the shelter after school. “Fear and worry about how to survive are with them all day, a constant,” says Director Johnson. “The biggest thing that happens to them when they come in here is that mind-bending anxiety is gone for awhile. They can relax.”

CWF is one of a couple foundations supporting DreamCatcher, alongside the California Endowment and the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency. However, CWF's future support of the shelter is uncertain. As of November 1, 2013, CWF stopped accepting unsolicited letters of interest and announced that its Responsive Grantmaking Program would end by the end of 2014. The federal budget sequestration already cost DreamCatcher over $100,000 this year. Will further funding cuts send teens back out on the streets?