Troubled teens offered solace at Coffee Shelter
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By Natalie Gray  June 14, 2013 12:00 am

Growing-up can be hard to do. There’s school, homework, the pressure of fitting in and, of course, uncomfortable raging hormones. Add an uneasy relationship with parents or guardians or the lack of a safe home and growing-up can be even harder, maybe even impossible for some.

That is where the Dr. James E. Coffee Teen Shelter steps in. Located in Santa Rosa, the Coffee Teen Shelter is a program through the Social Advocates for Youths (SAY) that is dedicated to making sure troubled teens between the ages 12-17 have a safe place to stay. The shelter accepts youths from all over Sonoma County who are homeless, fighting with parents and guardians or feel unsafe or unable to live in their current situations. According to SAY Development Coordinator Caitlin Childs, the shelter even works with local police, such as the Rohnert Park Police Department, to use their position and best judgment to help find less than stable homes or kids in need of the shelter.

“Our main focus is to take the kids in and make them feel like they’re safe,” said Childs in a phone interview. “It’s to give them a safe place to stay (and we) work with parents and kids and try to make the home situation better than when they left it.”

The shelter opened in 1991, a cozy, but functional building meant to not only give children a safe place to stay, but to make them feel at home, said Childs. With only six beds, the shelter is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to give unlimited access to youths in need. The shelter even has a hotline where staff members are always standing by, so no one is ever left unanswered. In the past year alone, the shelter saw 105 kids from various different backgrounds and home situations and rarely was one ever turned away for lack of room, said Childs.

“We try to be creative with our solutions,” said Childs.

The shelter has a wide range of staff members, including certified family therapists, consolers and members of AmeriCorps. There is also a collection of volunteers that assist the staff and youth guests, some local community members, some students from Sonoma State University and even some being former shelter guest trying to return the favor.

Recent SSU Sociology graduate Lindsay Delehant moved her way from being a volunteer of four months to staff member, working at the shelter as an on-call relief counselor and shelter-staff team member.

“I absolutely love my job,” said Delehant in an email interview. “My dream job since I can remember is working with at-risk youths to make a difference in their lives.”

According to Childs, calls to the hotline vary from tired, fed-up parents seeking advice to deal with their children and kids seeking advice or a way to the shelter. Each bedroom at the shelter is decorated, whether they are colorful and bright with “Sponge Bob Squarepants” cartoon characters or warm, smooth tones with framed motivational quotes. There is a kitchen and living room for kids to mingle in and staff members and volunteers are always on stand-by to help and give advice to their young guests.

The Dr. Coffee Shelter is an emergency shelter. What this means for this particular shelter is that children can only stay 21 days at a time. In that time, staff and volunteers try to work with the kids to get to the heart of their situation, perhaps fights with their parents or more unfortunate, harder to overcome situations such as abuse. When cases are the latter, representatives at the shelter sometimes have to call Child Protective Services to help come up with an alternative solution.

“The abuse we see is physical and sexual, neglect and drugs,” said Childs. “We see a lot of parents that are unable to provide for their children.”

Though the shelter is only certified for children under the age of 18, the staff and volunteers still contribute as much as they can to helping older, young adults who may find themselves homeless. The shelter offers any-time drop-ins for such youths, to offer them free meals, clothes and sleeping bags, given by donation efforts of the shelter and community. Drop-off donations are always welcome as long beddings and pajamas are new and clothing suitable for young adults and teenagers.

You can visit the shelter’s web page to learn about volunteer and donation options at www.saysc.org. There you can also find a wish list for donation and gift options. You can call the shelter’s hotline for family and living advice at (888) 729-0012. 

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