Youth homeless program struggles to keep its doors open after federal funding cuts 

San Mateo County's only transitional living facility dedicated to homeless youth is facing an uncertain future after funding cuts earlier this year eliminated more than half the program's annual operating budget.

Due to the federal cuts affecting transitional living services across the country, Redwood City-based Daybreak's center has had to cut back staff hours and eliminate its mental health clinician position, noted Miki Armstrong, marketing director for Star Vista, a nonprofit social services organization that oversees the Daybreak program.

The program typically takes in about 20 young people each year, but since June, when the budget cuts took effect, the enrollment has dwindled down to only three people.

"I do feel that this huge change has encouraged our residents to move out or find other options," Daybreak Program Manager Sabina Harris said of the struggles facing the organization.

As a result of the budget cutbacks, the facility, which has beds for 10 people to use at a time, has been forced to close during the day, even on weekends. This has caused the youth struggling with homelessness to be away from Daybreak until they can return to the home to sleep in the evenings.

"Daybreak is not designed to work like a shelter, it's designed to work like a home," Harris said.

Armstrong said the cuts came about because the federal government is focusing its financial assistance more on programs that quickly find housing for homeless young people and less on programs that address longer-term rehousing and rehabilitation services, as Daybreak does.

The Daybreak home provides accommodations for youths ages 16 to 21.

The youth participants are provided with access to services to help them find jobs, obtain degrees, save money, get necessary health care and move on to independent living situations.

Teens and young adults have found refuge at Daybreak from the challenges of homelessness, while others have lived there while weathering the often tumultuous transition out of the foster care system.

"For most of them, this is the first sense of stability they've experienced in a long time," Armstrong said.

Since the home first opened in 1990, 80 percent of Daybreak's residents have graduated high school, and its active outreach program helps 2,500 young people find job training, housing and mental health services each year.

The program was founded by current Assemblyman Rich Gordon, Carol Welsh Gray, and the Junior League of Palo Alto/Mid-Peninsula.

"The program has been around this community for 24 years. It's a safe place. Even if youth don't reside there, they know they can come to us for support," Harris said.

The organization now needs to raise at least $100,000 to continue the services through the end of this fiscal year, officials said. While that amount won't fully compensate for the $180,000 funding cut Daybreak received, it would at least provide enough to rehire a mental health professional, officials noted.

Besides working to raise necessary funds for the rest of this year, Daybreak plans to launch a new funding formula that relies more on private donations and support from businesses than on federal and foundation grants.

Armstrong hopes a new funding structure will prevent the losses resulting from future federal cuts.

Daybreak is also taking one-time or recurring donations now through its website, and the shelter is holding a public open house Sept. 7 to officially launch the new fundraising campaign as well as introduce community members to the services it offers.

More information can be found online at star-vista.org.

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Emilie Mutert

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