A New Kind Of Center For Homeless Youth In Houston
by: David Pitman, July 4, 2011 5:07:00 am
As the door swings open on a recent Tuesday morning at the Safe Spot, about a dozen young people who've been pacing out front eagerly come inside. Every weekday they pack the duplex on Hawthorne for free drinks, snacks, and to get out of the heat. They're also here to get their lives on track. In February, Safe Spot started serving 13-to-24-years-olds who are either homeless, or on the verge of it.
"There's no other drop-in center specifically for this age demographic."
Jason Warner is the founder and executive director of Safe Affirming Family Environment — SAFE for short. The program matches clients with people who've offered spare rooms in their houses as temporary shelter. Warner says the clients must show they're working toward self-sufficiency by pairing up with mentors, attending workshops, and performing community service.
"Basically, after that mentorship is assigned, and that mentor's there to work with them over this period. Within three to six months, we expect them to have a job, to have saved enough money up, that they can actually then go and find their own place to live."
Warner knows what it's like to be homeless. The 36-year-old Baltimore native was 23 when he was on tour with a Christian music group. His band mates kicked him out in Houston after they discovered he's gay. Rather than go home and risk rejection from his parents, he told them everything was fine, as he lived out of his car. Eventually, he met the owner of an apartment building who offered him a place to stay in exchange for office work. Warner says that changed his life.
"Within 5 months, I saved enough money up, I really could step back from my situation and figure out, 'what do I want to do?' So I moved to Nashville and that's when my music career began taking off."
Warner found success as one half of the pop music duo Jason and deMarco. He says the help he received inspired him to come back to Houston to help other teens and young adults. He started laying the groundwork for the Safe Spot after a young gay man he was acquainted with committed suicide when his parents rejected him. He says he originally saw the Safe Spot as a place that would primarily serve gay youth.
"What I realized very quickly was that this was a much larger issue than GLBT. Yes, there were GLBT people that were being kicked out or cut off by their families when they came out. But, I also met so many young adults that had aged out of foster care, that had no family support — people that had been kicked out for other reasons."
About ten percent of the clientele at the Safe Spot are gay, lesbian, bi, or transgendered. Warner says right now, the main focus is reaching out to the homeless. The second phase will be to place gay teenagers in friendly foster homes. The ultimate goal is to build a youth center on the outskirts of Houston that will provide jobs, transitional housing, and mentorship all under one roof.