City Council Aids Star House in Search for New Facility
“Currently, there’s an estimated twelve to fifteen hundred homeless youth and youth in transition in Central Ohio,” said Denitza Bantchevska, Interim Director of Ohio State University’s Star House. “Since we’re serving this year about 650 so far, that means we’re not serving about half of that population that’s out there on the street. So the need is great.”
The need is so great that on Nov. 10, Columbus City Council voted to grant $300,000 to Star House, a non-residential shelter for homeless youth between the ages of 14 and 24. Kids can come to the house to get out of the cold, watch TV, take a shower, wash clothes, cook and eat. The operators of Star House provide services to help with reading and writing, applying for jobs or get an education.
The shelter is the only stop-in center for homeless youth in Central Ohio, said Bantchevska, and as far as she is aware, it is also the only such center in the country that is developed based on research into caregiving for homeless youth.
“We have consistently ongoing research projects with are examining the best practices to work with this population,” said Bantchevska. “The work that we do is designed based on these research findings.”
Star House employs two therapists full time to work with the teenagers and connect them to specialized services and other help. Bantchevska said most of the kids who come to Star House do not trust organizations or agencies enough to communicate or ask for help.
“Over time, if we give them their space, with patience, they start trusting little by little,” said Bantchevska. “Through that relationship, they’re able to make the next step that will take them closer to actually achieving more in-depth help or services that will help them in the process of reintegration with society.”
There are various circumstances that push teenagers out onto the streets, but Bantchevska has seen one element appear in almost every case.
“Pretty much without exception, all of our kids have been severely abused, physically, sexually, emotionally,” said Bantchevska. “They come from families who have experienced severe difficulties. Many of them have been kicked out of the house. Some of them are unable to return home because maybe the parents are not available. Maybe their parents have passed away or went to prison. Sometimes parents are there, but they have severe mental health issues, or maybe substance abuse issues.”
Without the stable support of a family, said Bantchevska, teenagers have extreme difficulty transitioning into adult life when they reach 18. That lack of support can have deadly consequences.
“The number one reason for death among our kids is suicide,” said Bantchevska. “It’s very disheartening to survive in this environment.”
On Nov. 7, City Council President Andrew Ginther toured Star House and announced the $300,000 grant in order to help with the ongoing effort to purchase a new building for the youth center.
“We desperately need a new building because the current building is not suitable for our work at all,” said Bantchevska. “We don’t have the conditions we need to be able to offer the services that are needed.”
The small, three-level residential house has only one shower and is in generally poor condition. Another problem is that space inside is very limited.
“We can have only have up to 28 kids at one time,” said Bantchevska. “That means, especially on days that are particularly cold, we have to put a sign out that we’re at capacity and we cannot take them in. That means someone is going to be out on the streets.”
It will cost an estimated $1.8 million for Star House to purchase and renovate their new building, which Bantchevska hopes will be in use by the summer of next year. So far, Star House has been able to raise about 70 percent of that cost. While Council has certainly given a sizable amount to the effort, ordinary citizens are also able to help by volunteering or donating.
“Not just monetary but we also accept other kinds of donations,” said Bantchevska. “We have a list online with items that are most wanted, most needed.”
More information on Star House can be found at http://www.osustarhouse.com/