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Former Los Angeles Youth Network (LAYN) resident Jevon Wilkes recently discovered that a home can be defined as a place of origin, and that origin can be described as a point in which a new life begins or starts its own existence.
He said those words could also be used to define LAYN’s new emergency shelter, which opened its doors for the first time on Sept. 11 in the 1700 block of Taft Ave. It will provide foster and homeless youth with a home while they embark on a new beginning, Wilkes said.
“And the youth that have the opportunity to come through this house, to come through this organization, I have to say are the luckiest kids … of all time,” he told the audience during the home’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The 10,000-square-foot, Craftsman-style house will replace LAYN’s 30-year-old emergency shelter, and it will provide more than 300 foster youth, ages 12 to 17, with housing and a plethora of services.
The home offers eight bedrooms, an art therapy room, a computer lab, a family reunification room and a youth services building, among other things. The youth services area has been named after retiring Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District.
The emergency shelter is the latest development for LAYN, an organization created in 1985 as part of a pilot project at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Executive director Mark Supper said it took a “tremendous” amount of help to make it happen.
“All I can say is we did it. We made it. We’re finally here,” he said.
Supper said there is still some work to be done on the home, but within a few weeks, foster youth should be receiving services at the location. He said it’s not easy to rehabilitate a home and create an emergency shelter.
“There are a lot of variables, but LAYN is an organization that understands barriers and understands what it takes to get through a project,” Supper added.
He said the children LAYN interacts with have barriers that most people couldn’t even imagine. Supper said many of them have lived extraordinarily challenging and difficult lives.
“Most of the kids who walk through these doors do not choose to walk through these doors,” he said. “They were removed from their homes because of some form of abuse, whether it’s sexual, physical, mental or emotional, or they were forced out of their house because of sexual orientation. These kids are brilliant, bright and amazing young individuals. …If we don’t help the kids at this stage — between twelve and seventeen — the odds of them becoming adult homeless individuals increases dramatically.”
Philip Browning, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, said the home will serve as a great resource for the department. He said the county handles thousands of foster youth cases each year, and it is often difficult to find an emergency shelter.
“So it’s critical for us to have partners like you that have come together to provide an additional resource for us,” Browning said. “This is only a thirty-day shelter, but this is a critical period for us. That first thirty days is so important.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, said he was pleased to attend such an event on the annual remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“On this day, what better way to mark that date than to do something like this, something so beautiful,” he said.
O’Farrell said 50 percent of emancipated youth wind up on the streets, which is among the reasons that he is on an “undying, unstoppable mission” create affordable housing policy for Los Angeles.
“There is a moral imperative at work here. We’ve got to do it,” he said. “We need a long term solution.”
Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education vice president Steve Zimmer, 4th District, said he used to work with at-risk youth when he was employed at Marshall High School. He would warn students that the shelter was fairly weathered.
“Now you have to understand — the Gower — the building’s a little torn up,” Zimmer told his students. “It’s a little torn up, but the staff are some of the most amazing people you will ever meet in your life. And if you buy in and meet them even a quarter of the way, what you are going through right now you can transcend. You can’t do it alone, but this is the place. It’s a little rough — the building’s a little rough — but this is the place.”
Now, LAYN has a building to match the heart and soul of the people who are transforming lives inside the structure, he said.
“That’s an amazing accomplishment,” Zimmer added.
Yaroslavsky said the county is the “parent of last resort” for thousands of children who are living on the margins of society — mostly due to things that are beyond their control.
“Historically, society has turned its back on people who are on the margins. …This is an example of the other way of doing things,” he said.
Yaroslavsky said LAYN stands for the principle that everyone matters and that every life is valuable and should be respected, no matter the circumstances. He said 17 children can stay at the shelter on any given day.
“That’s a lot of people. If you just save one of them, if you just set one of them on the right course, your life will have been made worthwhile,” the supervisor said.
Perla Hudson and her husband, rocker Slash, have supported LAYN since 2007. She said society has a responsibility to step forward and take care of its most vulnerable residents, and that’s why LAYN’s work is so important.
“Projects like this new shelter go a long way toward giving these kids a fighting chance, but it still really isn’t enough to provide for those who are in need,” Hudson said.
For information, visit www.layn.org.
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