Without a place to live, and carrying little more than a small bag of clothes, Jennifer Allanson rode the free Orbit bus in Tempe, unsure of where she would turn to next.
She’d found cover in a homeless shelter — albeit one with terrible conditions — but it was there, as her life was spiraling down, that she first received on the place that could ultimately help get her life back on track.
That place, the Tempe Youth Resource Center, is located near the city’s downtown district, just off Mill Avenue. It’s purpose: to service young people, ages 11-25, who are homeless or about to lose their homes. Services include food, hygience, clothing and other tools aimed at improving the lives of youths in need.
Open Monday through Friday at 10:15 a.m., the center recently celebrated its 10th anniversary of its November 2002 opening. It was opened as an offshoot effort of the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development — a nonprofit agency founded in 1972 by Soroptimist International of Phoenix — after the success of organization’s Phoenix center.
According to those that work with the Tempe facility, it’s located near Mill Avenue because it’s an area that many homeless youth are attracted to — not unlike Allanson. The idea, as its explained, is that homeless can better blend in with the crowd on Mill, since many work to not let others know their status.
Allanson may have been young in age, but she had experienced enough for a lifetime before relying on TYRC.
After suffering a serious accident at age 17 while on a trip to Mexico, Allanson eventually recovered only to have her brother killed during another traffic accident.
Partying, drugs and alcohol took control of Allanson’s life, caused an estrangement with her parents and led to the loss of her academic scholarship.
Her life became so bad she was featured on the A&E television program “Intervention” in 2009.
She moved apartment to apartment, and eventually went through a period of “house hopping.” Allanson eventually ended up with a drug dealer, but after an incident with him she had nowhere to go.
The Tempe Youth Resource Center helped her get tied into the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), which helped her get basic treament and medicine, housing, and ultimately end up back in school. Allanson now lives in the dorms at Arizona State University, where she is studying social work; she also works as an event attendant for ASU’s Athletic Department, and plans to move into an apartment in Phoenix in August to to continue her studies at ASU’s downtown campus.
Brian Paez, Tumbleweed’s case manager director, said the conditions of the young people Tumbleweed and the TYRC serve range from having mental health disabilities, being pregnant or running away from home to drug addiction.
“Most of them don’t have a high school education or a GED,” Paez said. “I will say that about 20 percent of them have a GED.”
According to the 2011 annual report of the Homeless Coordination Office of the Arizona Department of Economic Security, 30,342 children — those in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade — are homeless in the state. Seventy-three percent were reported to be living temporarily with another family member, 22 percent were living in shelters, 3 percent living in hotels or motels, and 2 percent living unsheltered.
Paez explains that mental disabilities and running away from home are the two major reasons why people end up on the streets. He lists bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (known as ADHD) and depression among the conditions he sees the most. Paez says that often, people are not getting the medical attention they need because they simply don’t have the money or insurance to cover it.
“Only people with severe mental illnesses get insurance,” Paez said. “Most young adults don’t qualify for it.”
Paez explains that these mental disorders can cause problems at home that make people run away.
“Then there’s also abuse or unfriendly environments where the only choice for them is to escape,” he added.
While the center does what it can to provide food, shelter during the day, clothing, and opportunities, “there’s not a cookie cutter solution ... it’s a slow process,” Paez notes.
That’s why case managers are assigned to find an individual’s needs and set goals.
Allanson went through the same process when she joined the center. Her case manager will often provide her with small weekly goals in order to accomplish her monthly ones.
Another way the center helps homeless youth is by directly going to them. The street outreach team’s mission is to go to places where homeless youth stay and sleep.
Chelsea Pilon, 26, and Laura Hiebert, 25, serve on that outreach team. On Sunday, Monday, and Thursday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Pilon and Hiebert travel throughout the East Valley offering food, clothes, blankets, water, and information about the center to the homeless. They said that that they usually find homeless youth in train tracks, canals, abandoned buildings, and freeway underpasses.
Pilon and Hiebert said that they have had success in getting people to join the center, but not everyone takes the call.
Allanson, however, did.
“Tumbleweed offers so many different things to utilize to help you in your future,” she said. “You can always make it better, keep striving for your goals, hard work pays off.”
More information on Tempe Youth Resource Center (including location, hours and more): evtnow.com/tempeyouthresource
Abel, a senior studying journalism at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.