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A crisis for youth in crisis


The Hillside Family of Agencies stopped providing emergency housing for homeless and runaway youth earlier this year.

The shelter, which operated since the 1970's, has seen a considerate drop in state funding over the last several years. Hillside received $107,437 in runaway and homeless youth program funding from the state in 2008, and $29,150 in 2012. The state money goes to the Rochester-Monroe County Youth Bureau, which distributes the funding.

In 2011, Hillside's emergency shelter program served 31 young people.

Hillside tried to keep the shelter going, but it also lost $100,000 in federal grant money, and that's what ultimately did the program in, says Tess Mahnken-Weatherspoon, a staff member at the agency. (She says Hillside plans to reapply for the federal grants in the hope that it can resume providing emergency housing.)

Hillside still gets some runaway and homeless youth funding through the county youth bureau. It is used to provide case management services for homeless and runaway youth at its drop-in center, Mahnken-Weatherspoon says.

Hillside is not the only agency to lose runaway and homeless youth funding. The state's made drastic cuts to the funding, which is directed through local youth bureaus, over the past several years. It's cut funding for other youth bureau programs as well.

For example, the Rochester-Monroe County Youth Bureau, which is a county department, will receive approximately 59 percent less state aid in 2013 — $801,882 — than it did in 2006, when it received approximately $2 million.

Kelly Reed, commissioner of the County Department of Human Services, says the cuts have led her to shrink youth bureau staff. And the department has reduced the size of all of its contracts, though some more than others. The county has tried to preserve runaway and homeless youth funding for shelters, however, Reed says.

In 2013, Reed plans a different approach. The youth bureau, which will be called the Office of Youth Development, and the Office for the Aging will be combined to create the Office of Intergenerational Support. Both will still exist as defined entities, which will allow the county to continue receiving certain state funding.

"We're done waiting to hear what's going to happen with the funding and we're planning forward," Reed says.

The merger sounds technical and bureaucratic, and in a sense it is. But Reed says the plan has distinct benefits. For example, it'll allow the county to better plan intergenerational events and programs similar to its Intergenerational Fishing Derby at Powder Mills Park and an annual holiday ball, Reed says.

The merger has an operational benefit, too, she says. Someone will be appointed primary director of the new office and that person will be in charge of financial management, Reed says. The director will also search for new funding sources.

County officials say they expect to receive $165,672 in state runaway and homeless youth funding for 2013. That's down approximately 51 percent from the $336,821 the county received in 2006.

As a result, county spending on contracts for homeless and runaway youth services has fallen from $381,499 in 2006 to $148,108 in 2013. In 2006, the programs served 1,550 youth, but the county expects to serve 890 in 2013.

Anecdotally, shelters for homeless youth nationwide are reporting increased demand, says Jeff Kaczorowski, a children's advocate and president of the Children's Agenda. And locally, the demand is high enough that some youth are placed in adult shelters or hotel rooms, he says.

The Center for Youth also gets runaway and homeless youth funding through the county youth bureau. And like Hillside, the center has seen that money decrease, though federal funding is helping preserve services, including the center's emergency shelters.

But the teens that the center serves are staying longer on average than in the past, says Elaine Spaull, the center's executive director. The shelter served approximately 140 youth in the first six months of 2012, but had to turn away dozens of youth in need, Spaull says.

The center offers temporary shelter for youth in crisis, though much of the runaway and homeless youth funding it receives goes toward intervention and counseling services.

"Without that positive youth development piece, it doesn't have as much traction because it's more of a short-term intervention than a long-term fix," Spaull says.

The Center for Youth also gets youth bureau funding for programs aimed at preventing homelessness, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence.

Other community and social service organization receive funding for similar programs. And the Rochester-Monroe County Youth Bureau also supports youth leadership programs. But as a result of state cuts, the bureau is spending less on those programs, too.

Carrie Andrews, the County Legislature's Democratic leader, says the trend of decreasing youth bureau funding and spending worries her. While that's happened, other youth programs — arts, recreation, and after-school programs — have lost funding, she says.

"There's becoming a void of programming for young people and it doesn't seem like it's the right time to leave such a void," Andrews says. "We really need to step up our efforts in this area."

Kaczorowski says the city, in particular, is struggling with youth violence, low graduation rates, and high teen pregnancy rates. The state and county should be increasing investment in youth programs and ensuring that programs receiving money are high quality and effective, Kaczorowski says. He says his organization is willing to work with the county to secure funding and to help it guide investments toward effective programs.

"A loss of youth bureau funding, given what's going on for youth, is a problem," he says.

And Andrews says that, ultimately, she's optimistic about Reed's plan to form the Office of Intergenerational Support.

"Obviously, young people need assistance and we should have good, effective programs," she says. "And if what we're doing now isn't working, then we should revamp it. So perhaps this is a step in the right direction."