In January, we celebrated one year of service to homeless youth and young adults between the ages of 14 and 24 on Cape Cod. Housing Assistance’s Youth Homeless Services Program is funded through a grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services that was awarded to the Barnstable County Department of Human Services. Our efforts are focused on the Upper and Mid-Cape with four other agencies conducting similar work on the Lower Cape, Outer Cape, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Over the past year, Case Manager Zelda Bergstrom has worked with nearly 40 clients with referrals coming from several organizations including Cape Cod Hospital, Falmouth Human Services, Department of Children & Families, and Bay Cove Human Services.
Currently, Zelda has a caseload of 26 clients. “The number one goal is to get them housed and to build up their support systems and link them with any kind of service they need, whether it is therapeutic, financial, educational, medical, or family reunification, if possible,” Zelda said. “It is really a wraparound approach to achieve stability.”
The youth in this program are all homeless, living on the street, couch surfing with friends or family, camping in the woods, or staying at St. Joseph’s House in Hyannis.
Among the most extreme cases, Zelda said, are people living in places “that should not be inhabited by humans. They shouldn’t be there. I had one client in his early 20s living in a closet.”
Through the grant, Zelda has flexible funds that can be used to assist clients with transportation, paying an old utility bill to get them housed, or purchasing new clothes for job interviews. She has connected area youth to employment opportunities, food and transportation vouchers, and substance abuse treatment with the goal of accessing supportive services to move them into stable housing.
While there is “no easy fix”, Zelda has been able to house 21 of her clients in apartments on- and off-Cape.
Admittedly, this is hard work. “Personally, because I am a mother, to think that a young adult or teenager would be left to fend for themselves is a really challenging thought,” she said.
Despite the difficulties, there are the rewards. “Getting to know them as a person is the best part of it,” she said. “And hoping I can give them guidance or link them to any kind of assistance they might not be able to get elsewhere.”
Read more about how Zelda Bergstrom helped one homeless youth secure housing after living in a tent in the woods for five months last year.