Danielle couch-surfed through a couple of turbulent teen years as waves of instability rocked her home life.
“When I was like 16 I left my dad’s because we had a really bad falling out,” says Danielle, now 18. “It just wasn’t a very good environment for a long time. We fought a lot. I was on a good path up until the very end of living there.”
Like many teens who end up as unaccompanied minors because of substance abuse and related issues in their family, Danielle — and a younger sibling before her — left home and sought out safe places to remain sheltered with other family and friends. All the while, she struggled to keep up with school and everything else that normally goes along with a successful transition to adulthood.
“I was couch-surfing for a while, and then I ended up not being able to stay where I was staying in my cousin’s garage anymore,” she says. “She’s the one who told me about The Youth House.”
So, in early 2021, she entered St. Vincent de Paul’s two-year transitional residential program for female-identifying teens who are experiencing homelessness. It was like she passed from those stormy years of couch-surfing into the calm waters of a safe harbor.
With a no-cost studio apartment of her own and case-management help provided by Youth House staff, Danielle was finally able to clearly see the horizon before her, get her bearings, and chart her course toward a more certain and successful future.
Back on her feet
For starters, she worked through Lane Community College to earn her GED after struggling with her high school’s online learning requirements early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, she’s even registered for her first college classes at LCC starting this spring. In fact, she has an introductory session on this very day focused on easing the transition from high school to college.
Danielle plans to take a general academic course load to start, but says she’s interested in becoming a carpenter and might pursue that vocational training.
“I really like working with my hands,” she says. “I feel like it makes the days go by a lot faster.”
While living at The Youth House in south Eugene, Danielle has also gained relevant construction work experience. Since October 2021, she’s helped build tiny homes for Carry It Forward, a Eugene-based nonprofit advocacy group working to develop solutions to the homelessness problem.
That opportunity arose through Danielle’s participation in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Youth Program, which is open to all Lane County students. WIOA also provided support for Danielle to become a licensed driver, and paid the fees associated with getting her permit and license.
Making sure that residents connect with available community resources such as these is a priority of SVdP’s Youth House program. The wraparound, personalized case management that participants receive is important for positive long-term outcomes — ensuring that the teens are equipped to succeed academically, have an identified post-secondary career or educational path, and are prepared to achieve financial and housing independence as young adults.
Of course, access to their own room with a private bathroom and kitchenette is the most obvious benefit for Youth House residents. For Danielle, having a predictable place to sleep every night and a comfortable, private space to call her own have been transformative. She acknowledges that the physical space was just the start, but that it instilled in her the drive to get back on her feet.
“I don’t think I’d be where I am now,” she reflects, “if I wasn’t in a stable environment like I am now.”
A brightening future
In addition to making progress toward long-term education, employment and housing goals, Danielle says her improved situation has helped her reconnect with her father. “About the time when I moved in here, I started going up there every weekend to visit,” she says. “Things aren’t as bad with him now, and we have a way better relationship.”
Along her path toward stability, Danielle also has received help from other organizations with referrals often provided by her Youth House case manager. For one, she has engaged with counseling through Looking Glass Community Services’ New Roads program, which provides assistance in finding stable housing, among other things.
After The Youth House, Danielle says she and her boyfriend plan to get an apartment together. That’s never an easy task for first-time renters, especially those lacking a co-signer. But her two years of successful lease history and a solid property-management reference from SVdP will give her an advantage.
As she approaches the tail end of her lease, Danielle says she’s excited about what lies ahead — starting college, making her own home, building a strong credit score.
“I think I’m going to be happy to leave, but it’s chill here; I like it,” she says of The Youth House.
“Being here really beats couch surfing,” she concludes with a smile, anticipating her journey through calmer waters ahead.
Community members can help local youth experiencing homelessness by making a financial contribution or donating needed material items to SVdP’s Youth House. To get started, please click here:Donate to Youth House Learn More About Youth House