Tempe Youth Resource Center offers sense of community to homeless teens

Homeless and at-risk youth can find support and a sense of community at the Tempe Youth Resource Center, a drop-in center near Mill Avenue.

The center, which offers basic services to the youth ages 12 to 25, is run by the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development.

The center offers youth offered basic services when they first go in: a T-shirt and pants, hygiene items, water and a shower.

After they reach their allotted 15 visits, the teens and young adults have to make up their mind whether they want to receive case management.

Victor Rojas, the team coordinator, has been working at the resource center since January. He works with the teens that come in and manages the center along with two other full-time employees.

“When they get on case management, that’s when they can begin to aggressively pursue whatever goals they might have in mind,” he said.

Those goals include obtaining a state-issued ID, connections to health care and counseling. They also help the youth with preparing for the GED and interviews, to help them get on their feet and take care of themselves.

“It’s a way to put some fire under them, to say, ‘Hey look, it’s time to start trying to be more productive,’” he said.

Shannon, 18, said she has been on the streets for six months when she was released from foster care. She has been coming to the center for about four months.

“I like this place, because it’s kind of like a house, and it makes you feel like you’re at home,” she said.

Shannon said she is now working on getting an ID.

The center also offers even simpler services, such as a storage container for the youth’s belongings and a quiet room with a couch for naps, because a full night’s sleep is often a challenge for the teens who come in, Rojas said.

“We want them to be pursuing things to better themselves,” he said. “Our objective is to help them find a personal strength, and cultivate that so that they begin to be more ambitious.”

The staff prepares breakfast and lunch every day for the youth in the center’s small kitchen.

Susan Crawford, a full-time youth care worker, makes a hot lunch with food bought from their grocery budget or donated from local restaurants such as Chipotle. Breakfast often includes pastries donated from Starbucks.

She said the staff cooks for about 15 to 20 clients at lunch, but at one point had up to 30 kids coming for lunch.

“We just kind of wing it, and hopefully they like it,” she said.

The center also has outreach workers that go on the streets three nights a week to hand out food, water, basic necessities and tell homeless teens about the center. This outreach work along with word of mouth has been increasing the centers numbers every month.

Help from volunteers and donations keep the center running.

Rojas said he sees a lot of college students donating and volunteering in the center, perhaps because they can relate to the youth. There is a spike in donations over the holidays, he added.

The center is looking for donations including socks and underwear, hygiene items, especially razors for men and hair brushes for the girls, year-round.

The Tempe Youth Resource Center also recently allowed pets inside the building, and Rojas said they are looking to raise some money to vaccinate the pets that come into the center.

Volunteers help out a lot, often doing basic tasks like cleaning the building and keeping it organized.

“When we have volunteers, it’s really helpful,” he said. “They can help keep the place spic and span,” he said.

Jamie, 25, said he has been homeless since he was 15. He has received help from the center in looking for a job as he settles in Tempe after moving from Wisconsin.

“They make it a little easier to be homeless,” he said.

Reach the reporter at kloschia@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @karenlosch