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Close to Home: Don't throw away this SAY miracle

  • Social Advocates for Youth board president John Meislahn, center, takes community leaders and residents from Bennett Valley through a tour of the old Warrick Hospital on Aug. 28. Meislahn and SAY proponents are hoping to use the space for housing homeless youth. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

The Sonoma County Housing Advocacy Group is thrilled that Social Advocates for Youth may soon be providing more affordable housing and vital support services to local youth — and endorses this promising “Dream Center” for the following reasons.

Remember the rush of love felt when your newborn child arrived? That miracle of life shines in each child. None should be discounted, let alone considered a throw-away child. Kids lacking stable homes are no exception. They are faultless, the innocents deserving nothing less than their home town's unabashed support and guidance.

The 2013 Sonoma County homeless count found 277 unaccompanied children and 851 single transition-age youth (between the ages of 18 and 24), representing 26 percent of the homeless population, living on our streets last winter. We are failing our community's youth.

Some, including the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the United Nations Human Rights Committee, posit that housing is a human right. They and others have documented the indignities inflicted on homeless populations when state policies criminalize, penalize and marginalize them.

Left with minimal state protection, homeless kids are forced to undertake self-made solutions, such as forming homeless encampments. Driving young people to these extremes erodes well-being and the healthy functioning of youth that allows them to be successful throughout maturation and into adulthood.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy concludes: “It is critical to understand that a child's well-being is intertwined with their safety and permanent relationships. Improving well-being outcomes must also include attention to social, emotional and physical health, educational success and connection to peers and community.”

The California Budget Project found it took $29,626 a year to support a single adult living in Sonoma County in 2010. That equates to about $13 per hour, which doesn't add up for young people entering the workforce and may explain why so many young adults are living at home, a “luxury” unavailable to the kids SAY serves.

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