Savannah Morning News – “Shelter helps troubled Savannah youth find a home”
Park Place Outreach is thankful for the Savannah Morning News and their article on us in Sunday, August 14th’s paper. Please find the full article below here:
‘On an average Thursday afternoon, a music jam session can be heard coming from the living room at 514 East Henry Street.
That’s where a handful of Savannah’s neglected and at-risk youth find solace in counseling and refuge at Park Place Outreach Youth Emergency Shelter, a nonprofit organization in Dixon Park that is tackling Savannah’s problem with homeless youth, one teen at a time. Each year, the 24-hour emergency shelter serves about 125 to 150 youths between 11 and 17 years old who are runaways, homeless, at risk of being homeless, or victims of abuse, neglect and trafficking.
“We’re the safe haven, and a youth can actually walk up to our door and self-admit if they’re fleeing from a dangerous situation,” said Linda Hilt, Park Place Outreach executive director.
The music session led by 23-year-old house parent Tyler Fulwood is just one way the staff connects to teens who’ve spent their nights on the city’s streets hoping to escape a household of abuse and violence.
“I started out as a peer mentor here when I was 15,” Fulwood said. “They like to see younger people because it’s easier for them to relate and we’re here to change lives. That’s what it’s all about.”
The facility has served more than 6,000 since its opening in 1984. The 12-bed facility was founded under the name Savannah Runaway Home and was renamed Park Place Outreach in 2008, Hilt said.
“We took that negative image of runaway out of the name because so many people have the concept that if you’re running away or any of the above, you’re a bad kid,” she said. “And it runs the whole gamut. There are children in bad situations and families that are having conflicts. They need counseling and support, so that’s how we opened.”
Park Place Outreach originally started out as a grassroots organization as a response to the increasing number of teens who were found on the street and arrested.
“They were being locked up and they were treated as criminals, and so concerned citizens did a survey and decided they needed to have a safe place for these youth,” Hilt said.
Park Place is the only shelter of its kind in Chatham County, Hilt said. It’s the only facility that a teen can voluntarily admit themselves to receive crisis intervention, emergency shelter, individual, group or family counseling, after-school tutorial and recreational services for free.
Federal grants pay for teens to stay up to 21 days with hopes that they can be returned to their family.
And despite the 12-bed capacity, Hilt said she’s never turned a teen away.
The facility also runs a street outreach program that pairs teens with adult staff and peer mentors like Fulwood. The mobile unit travels throughout the city providing information about available resources for people up to the age of 21.
“It’s out in the community and they are tasked with getting good information or providing counseling on the spot and or referral to shelter for care to anyone,” Hilt said. “A lot of the focus right now in the community is on this human trafficking issue, which is really a deeper form of prostitution.”
The mobile unit allows the shelter to reach individuals that would have otherwise been missed, said Kenneth Brown, street outreach program coordinator. He said last month he was patrolling the city’s westside when he noticed a young man traveling the streets with a stuffed bookbag.
“Something just told me to stop this young man,” he said.
The teen was about 6,000 miles away from home and stranded after plans to move in with a girlfriend did not pan out. The shelter was able to reconnect the man with family and arrange for a bus ticket home through the organization’s partnership with the National Runaway Hotline.
“He was able to call his mom and once we were able to verify that he was returning to a safe and healthy place then we allowed him to call the national hotline, which bought him a Greyhound bus ticket and we dropped him off at the bus station,” he said.
The shelter was awarded a $5,000 grant last month from Gulfstream Aerospace to be used toward program expenses.
“Gulfstream supports Park Place Outreach because their goal to provide a safe haven for teenagers in need aligns with our commitment to support the communities where our employees live and work,” said Emily Belford, Gulfstream spokeswoman. “Park Place Outreach is the only organization of its kind serving Chatham County, and, like many of the organizations Gulfstream supports in the U.S., Mexico and U.K., they are working to foster the health of our community through helping young men and women when they need it most.”
It’s the donations and support from community businesses and individuals that truly help to keep the center open, Hilt said.
“The bulk of our funding comes from the federal government to run these basic centers and outreach programs,” Hilt said. “But we always need a cash match from the community and that comes from either businesses, individuals or the city of Savannah. Without that support, it’s very difficult to get federal money. In receiving support from Gulfstream allows us to be able to do that for different grants, match that.”
The money will be used to offset the center’s operational expenses, Hilt said.
“The Gulfstream money goes into direct service and allows us to continue to the level of care that were giving the youth and that is beds meals counseling,” she said. “We also work with their families.”’