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GRASS VALLEY, Calif. – Bright Futures for Youth has received a $937,000 state grant from The Center at Sierra Health Foundation to expand outreach and case management efforts for youth experiencing homelessness, a fast-growing and often hard-to-see problem in Nevada County.

The three-year grant through Elevate Youth California – a project of The Center at Sierra Health Foundation under contract with the California Department of Health Care Services – allows Bright Futures for Youth’s SAFE program to add a drop-in center for youth at risk of experiencing homelessness, establish more comprehensive programs, and hire several staff members.

Aurora Packard, Director of the SAFE program, talks with a teen at Bright Futures for Youth.

The grant is the largest-ever for Bright Futures for Youth, formed by the merger between The Friendship Club and NEO in summer 2020. Funds from Elevate Youth California will primarily be used for the SAFE program.

“The grant will greatly benefit our efforts and ensure that we continue with our mission of finding youth experiencing homelessness or housing instability and help them overcome numerous challenges,” said Jennifer Singer, Executive Director of Bright Futures for Youth.

Bright Futures for Youth started the SAFE (Stability, Access, Foundation and Empowerment) program in 2019, committed to finding and helping children and young adults faced with housing insecurity in the community.

When the program started, SAFE’s goal was to connect with 12 young people (under 25 years old) per year, ensuring they have clothing, food, health care, counseling, paths to college, career technical education, and other necessities. SAFE has easily exceeded that figure and is helping almost 50 young people today – and has served more than 80 youth and families faced with housing instability during the past three years.

“Clearly, there is a desperate need for the SAFE program in the community, and we have worked very hard to connect with youth who are often marginalized and overlooked,” Singer said. “Many youth experiencing homelessness are also struggling with trauma that affects their mental and physical health, and their financial stability.”

SAFE helps children and young adults experiencing homelessness to access basic services – including food, health care and housing – and apply for government programs, such as Medi-Cal and the CalFresh program. SAFE also assists them to apply for college or trade school, financial aid or even navigate the often-confusing process of obtaining much-needed documents like their birth certificate or Social Security card.

“The SAFE program is about helping them today with their most immediate needs, but also teaching them how to become more self-sufficient tomorrow, from being able to find a job to attending college,” said Aurora Packard, Program Director of SAFE and an Associate Clinical Social Worker. “Homelessness is often a generational challenge, and we are committed to breaking that experience, giving youth the tools to build a better and more financially stable future.”

Some youth helped by SAFE may also participate in Bright Futures for Youth’s other programs – The Friendship Club and NEO.

SAFE staff members work closely with other community organizations, from Nevada County Health and Human Services to Nevada County schools. School officials estimate almost 350 students – about one student for every elementary and high school classroom in western Nevada County – were experiencing homelessness in the county in 2018, the latest figure available. The figure is likely higher today, especially with the challenges created from the COVID pandemic.

Also, finding youth experiencing homelessness is difficult in Nevada County, where small cities are surrounded by nature, compared to Sacramento and other large cities in the state. Youth experiencing homelessness are couch surfing with family members or friends, sleeping in a vehicle or, the worst-case scenario, living on the street.

The grant will help staff to find and connect with those youth in the community. The Elevate Youth California grant is funded by revenue from Proposition 64, which legalized adult non-medical use of cannabis in California.

“Elevate Youth California prioritizes youth leadership and invests in healing and community growth,” said Chet P. Hewitt, President and CEO of Sierra Health and The Center. “Our new partners will work directly with youth to improve the environment of communities impacted by the War on Drugs, which has led to inequity in our health systems and the criminalization of youth in low-income communities and communities of color. California’s youth are talented, capable and ready for this investment.”

Bright Futures for Youth’s SAFE Program joins 60 other community-based and tribal organizations in California that have received a total of $52 million through the latest round of funding from Elevate Youth California.

“As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, and our young people re-engage in school and the community … the nonprofit community and tribal partners have found innovative ways to meet the multiple, complex needs of our young people,” said Marlies Perez, Chief of the Department of Health Care Services Community Services Division.

About Bright Futures for Youth

Bright Futures for Youth is a nonprofit committed to making a life-changing difference for children and young adults in Nevada County. Bright Futures for Youth – created by the merger of The Friendship Club and NEO Youth Center in 2020 – has three programs: The Friendship Club, founded in 1995; NEO, founded in 2008; and SAFE, launched in 2019 to help youth experiencing homelessness. Bright Futures for Youth focuses on health and wellness, healthy relationships, goal setting, self-awareness, self-sufficiency and community connectedness. For more information, visit www.bffyouth.org or Facebook at Facebook.com/BrightFuturesforYouth.