A drop-in center on Austin Avenue for homeless young adults is aiming to help them their way as they lose access to a support network available in high school.
The Dobey Center on Austin Avenue opened last month at 2111 Austin Ave.in a two-story building owned by Klaras Center for Families, Heart of Texas MHMR’s child and adolescent division. The vision for the center is to serve as a hub for services aimed at the 18 to 24 age group.
The center offers classes on topics including writing emails, applying for jobs, financial aid and higher education; in addition to a computer lab, showers, a laundry facility and an onsite case worker. Soon, homeless young adults in rural areas will be able to use a transportation service to get to the center.
“It’s kind of an all-encompassing support center for young adults,” program director Nicole Wiscombe said.
The goal is to serve as a hub for services aimed at helping homeless people in the 18-to-24 age group make a quick transition into permanent housing.
The Dobey Center has been able to get off the ground supported by $1.7 million Heart of Texas MHMR received from a $2.23 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition in October.
The Cove, 524 W. Waco Drive, serves as a drop-in center for teenagers up to 18 years old, but there was no dedicated space for young adults.
“As you move from adolescence into young adulthood, you lose those supports you have in high school,” Wiscombe said. “It’s a big transition point, trying to navigate how to get a job, how to do I get to higher education? My first apartment?”
Wiscombe said the HUD grant, through its Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, is aimed at the needs of people between the ages of 16 and 24 and was developed based on the firsthand accounts and input from people who had experienced homelessness at those ages.
“Through the planning process we identified gaps in our system and came up with project ideas, things that we needed in our community, and one was the Dobey drop-in center,” Wiscombe said.
In addition to the Dobey Center, the Klaras Center also is using last year’s grant award to launch three other initiatives targeting young adults: a crisis transitional housing program, a rapid rehousing program and a navigation project.
In conversation, the initial name for the crisis housing program, Heart of Texas Crisis Transitional Housing, had become shortened to “Hutch.” Division director Ron Kimbell and special projects director Tom Christian said enthusiasm, and perhaps the creative disruption of quarantine, led to a decision to give all four programs names related to the 1970s TV shot “Starsky and Hutch.”
The Dobey Center, for example, is named for Capt. Harold Dobey, the boss of the titular characters.
The Huggy Bear navigation team, under the name of a popular confidential informant on the show, will go out to rural areas to offer services available at Dobey or to offer transportation to and from the center.
Wiscombe said young adults aging out of services for children can be standoffish when it comes to accessing adult services.
“You’re in a congregate shelter sleeping on a cot with strangers. A lot of that age group just feels safer sleeping in a tent in the woods, which isn’t a safe situation either but they feel more comfortable doing it,” Wiscombe said.
Kimbell said there has been more focus on early adulthood in general as a crucial transition period in the mental health world.
“Not only are they typically losing a lot of supports they had in their childhood … typically, not everybody has those, but this is also the highest risk period for mental health issues to emerge,” he said. “This is often a time when folks can have psychotic breaks.”
Klaras Center has some crisis housing for teenagers at a location called the Chase House, but Christian said it’s not uncommon for teenagers aging out of youth housing to have serious reservations about moving to adult services.
“Once you’ve been homeless, the risk of staying homeless increases exponentially, right?,” Christian said. “So if you catch it earlier, there’s going to be better outcomes.”
Wiscombe said the grant required the formation of a youth action board. All the members have to be younger than 25, and two thirds have to have personally experienced homelessness.
Youth Driven Activists Breaking Barriers, the youth action board working with the Heart of Texas Homeless Commission, is in the process of visiting other service providerse in the area and developing community agreements the Dobey Center will adhere to, board President Brenisha Thompson said.
“We’re just looking into it and thinking: If you were in that position, would we actually go there for the resources they provide, or is this something we’d overlook,” Thompson said.
She said once the HUD grant is fulfilled, the organization hopes to branch off and be a standalone youth homelessness support group.
The drop-in center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for now, but the hours could expand in the future.