OverviewLAYN is a California 501C-3 not-for-profit whose mission is to provide emergency shelter, transitional housing, counseling, education and support services for homeless youth in a safe and nurturing environment. We give youth a chance to achieve their personal goals and find a positive transition into adulthood.
One youth at a time, our youth leave home. They leave alcoholic and drug dependent families; homes where physical and sexual abuses are as ordinary as breakfast. They do not always leave of their own volition. Sometimes they are thrown out or abandoned on the street. Of the 12-17 year old runaways we see, most of their parents never report them missing.
As many as 13,000 homeless youths live on the streets of LA. There is a mistaken idea that street life is romantic and preferred by the youths, but our research shows this to be untrue. On the streets they fall victim to pimps and drug dealers. HIV/AIDS and other diseases and infections are constant threats. "Squats,” where the youths live, under freeways or in abandoned buildings, are filthy and violent beyond belief.
On the streets, these youths miss learning the basic tools for successful functioning in society. They often find themselves in trouble wherever they go. They are too volatile for foster homes, too disruptive for schools. They often end up in police custody. Their problems with institutions and authorities become chronic. If no one intervenes, they grow up to become welfare burdens at best. At worst they become criminals.
LAYN intervenes! We work with the most difficult of these chronic youth, the ones who have failed in other programs and have been labeled incorrigible.
LAYN has a high success rate in our emergency shelter. Over 80% of our youth exit our program to live successfully with their families, in foster or group home placements, or independently.
Eighty-Seven percent (87%) of those with successful outcomes will remain in stable settings.
How do we achieve such results? We begin from a position of respect that is unconditional and non-judgmental. We look at these youths and we are amazed at the tremendous strength that has allowed them to survive the trauma of their lives. Our whole program is set up to harness this survival strength, so the youths can use their strengths to turn their lives around. We succeed because we know they must do it for themselves. We have been involved in youth advocacy since 1986, and in those years we have seen a large number of youth stabilize their lives to know that they can do it. This is not accomplished through coddling; coddling will never help our youth master the tools they need to get along in society. That will take a degree of self-discipline they have never imagined.
To teach these lessons, LAYN's program employs a strict system of earned privileges and progressive levels that each youth works his/her way through. It includes tasks, goals and consistent application of our structure. At first, we do not expect the youth to reach all of the goals set by them, so we start with small steps. We trade meals and showers for their agreement to meet with a Case Manager once a month.
This initial step may not sound like much, but for many of these youth it is. The majority of youths highly respect and admire their LAYN Case Manager. LAYN Case Managers are often the first adult they have ever dealt with who is not out to abuse or exploit them.
The Case Manager helps them set very simple and achievable goals; for instance, receiving a health check-up at the Los Angeles Free Clinic - or securing a photo ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). For someone living in the turmoil of the streets, such tasks often seem impossible.
The youths feel the difference, and slowly they learn to trust, which is a foundation for succeeding in society.
In this process they also learn how to play by the rules; how to do what you say you will; how to be on time; how to respect property and the rights of others. LAYN provide rules that are crucial for securing a job, an education, and an apartment. They are basic rules that allow a person to function in a peaceful society. One “strong card” we hold is the fact that we share a common dream with every youths who walks through our doors. The dream of having a home of their own, a safe place away from the streets.
Realistically there are vast discrepancies between our version of the dream and theirs. To the youths, the dream is something like their own Apartment. To us, it may be reunification with their parents, if that can be accomplished within the best interest of the youth. Or it may be placement in a special foster home. In many cases our youths do move into job training situations and ultimately into positions where they can keep and maintain their level of stability.
LAYN works with a comprehensive network of medical, social and legal agencies to help put together a healthy home situation. Regardless of the outcome, the process is the same, one of giving youths a step-by-step understanding of how to take care of themselves.
Our methods are not dramatic; quite the opposite. Our methods are as painstaking and tedious as negotiating with any adolescent about anything. The approach is time consuming and labor intensive.
The lower cost of intervening now versus later has led such organizations as the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, The Department of Health & Human Services, the Los Angeles County Department of Children & Family Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency maintain their funding for LAYN.
At LAYN, we succeed because we know that the question is not - how do you put these youths under a roof? - but rather, how do you get them to stay there?
In our experience you do that one youth at a time! Taking the time to know each youth, and helping them to find the strength within themselves to do it for themselves. In that way the youths are brought not just under one roof, but under the roof of society; and there they stay.
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Los Angeles, CADec 07