Phyllis P. Nance, 2019 CSDA President and Director, Alameda County DCSS
As we continue our spotlight on this year’s CSDA non-profit charity recipient, DreamCatcher Youth Services, we focus on girls under the age of 18 escaping commercial sexual exploitation. DreamCatcher at Nika’s Place is a refuge for homeless youth who are statistically more at risk of homelessness than adults, and more likely to be engaged in high-risk behaviors such as survival sex and prostitution.
According to the National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL), more than 80% of all sexually exploited youth were homeless at the time their exploiter found them. Studies on youth homelessness show that within 72 hours of living on the streets, one-third of all girls will have already been found by an exploiter. Another one-third will have already engaged in transactional exploitive sex to survive. (1)
This is where Nika’s Place comes in. The drop-in program works to reach homeless girls in that short window of time to interrupt the cycle of trauma and abuse. Providing a “vital continuum of care” for nearly two decades, DreamCatcher understands the interconnections of issues homeless teens face, and works to solve the significant social problems of youth homelessness and human trafficking.
Nika’s Place was the brain child of deceased DreamCatcher Director Nika St. Claire who died in a car accident one year before renovations began. Nika was a leader in advocacy for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children and Foster Youth. Today, Nika’s place is fully licensed and operational. According to Ami Rowland of Covenant House, “Beds are ready, rooms are decorated, and welcome baskets are waiting for the young girls who need a safe place to heal.” (2)
While we have partnered with DreamCatcher to benefit vulnerable youth who are already in crisis, the ultimate goal of our daily, dedicated efforts at DCSS is to increase the well-being of children. Our sustained actions on behalf of families, whether in obtaining or enforcing court orders for child support and medical coverage, has a direct impact in reducing child poverty and homelessness. We firmly believe, and data demonstrates, that every child is entitled to the support of both parents, which can increase family self-sufficiency.
Studies show that a percentage of homeless youth come from single parent families experiencing extreme financial hardship. In these cases, the entire family may be unhoused, and older children often leave or are pushed out, due to shelter and child welfare policies, or in an attempt to alleviate the burden on the rest of the family unit. (1)
We know that housing prices in our state have exploded in recent years. National figures rank California as the second highest housing market in the U.S. According to the Census, median monthly gross residential rent in California was $1,358 from 2013-2017. Other sources, including Apartmentlist.com, cite California median rent prices closer to $1,700 for a 1-bedroom apartment. (3)
According to the Department of Social Services, the current maximum CalWORKs grant for a family of three is $704, but all eligible families do not receive this amount. (4) Minimum wage in California is $11/hour for smaller employers, with some localities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles paying $3 – 4 above that rate. (5)
The disconnect is clear. Many single parent families, whether working low wage paying jobs or receiving government assistance, will not make enough to afford housing in California. Poor families use multiple strategies to survive, but consistent child support payments not only increase family budget, they provide additional income to help single parents find reliable child care and transportation to obtain and retain employment. (6)
Please join us in our fundraising efforts, now through May 2019. Your generous donations and continued support will help DreamCatcher increase their service capacity and remain a “safe landing” for homeless and trafficked at-risk youth.