Starting next year, New Haven’s vulnerable youth will have access to a myriad of new facilities and support services.
A new teenage community center and shelter, named “The Escape,” will open its doors at 654 Orchard St. in January 2016. Formerly a multi-purpose community center owned by New Haven’s Bethel AME Church, the space was leased to the city last week and will begin renovations later this month. Meredith Benson, an organizer for Bethel AMC Church, emphasized the influence the teenagers using the center will have in shaping its direction.
“It’s very important for us that a lot of the things that happen at The Escape [are] youth-run,” Benson said.
Jason Bartlett, the city youth services director, said The Escape strives to be a different type of shelter than other organizations for underprivileged children and teenagers such as Youth Continuum, a local homeless shelter for vulnerable youth.
Bartlett noted that the culture of The Escape will be different from that of traditional shelters. He explained that many youth nonprofits are structured so that kids who attend have their daily schedules delineated for them by adults. The Escape, however, will be different.
“[The Escape is] meant to offer a different type of approach to youth development. So you can go and play Xbox and watch TV and no one will bother you,” Bartlett said.
In addition to video games and television sets, Benson said, The Escape will have a community theater, two commercial kitchens, a gym and a recording studio. She added that the center will offer a wide range of services, including support for mental health, college applications and employment, as well as an arts program that will involve volunteers from the Yale University Art Gallery.
The Escape’s most publicized component is a temporary shelter for homeless teenagers called “the Situation,” which was also named by students on the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council. The Situation will consist of 10 to 15 beds made for boys aged 13 to 24. Bartlett added that there would be additional resources for members of the LGBQT community, but did not specify whether transgender or non-binary youth are eligible for housing. The Escape hopes to branch out to offer shelter for girls as the organization’s funding increases, Bartlett noted.
Bartlett said The Escape’s budget consists of the $285,000 the city allocated to renovate the space and run the shelter after it opens, but added that additional funding sources are being explored. Jewell Molina, a project intern at the nonprofit educational agency Rain of Hope, said his organization recently pledged to donate money to the center.
“The Escape is meant to engage disengaged youth of any stripe,” Bartlett said. “We will help case-manage and help make sure that the young people of New Haven are getting an education and resources to move into permanent housing.”
According to the Needs Assessment on Homelessness in New Haven — a city funded report published in December 2015 — 424 teenagers New Haven self-identify as homeless.