New shelter aims to help growing ranks of homeless young adults

New shelter aims to help growing ranks of homeless young adults
Updated: Sep. 5, 2018 at 5:51 PM HST
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KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A first-of-its-kind homeless shelter geared towards young people has opened at the Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center in Kailua.

Young adults from 18 to 24 are one of the fastest-growing groups of people falling into homelessness, according to the state's annual homeless "point-in-time" count.

And a majority of adolescents living at RYSE — or Residential Youth Services and Empowerment — say their childhood was spent either on the street, in foster care or locked up at a detention facility.

Valerie Tumbaga was 13 years old when her home life spiraled out of control.

"We used to live in a brown Toyota van outside the men's IHS shelter," Tumbaga said.

In the years that followed, she dropped out of school, started using drugs and had a baby. At 19, she was still homeless.

Last month, she connected with RYSE. And she's happy she did.

RYSE Executive Director Carla Houser said adult shelters can be a "scary place" for a young person who's alone and trying to figure things out.

"Our model is really to be adolescent-specific," she said.

The shelter houses a total of 20 young men and women from 18 to 24.

On-site GED prep and vocational training is provided along with access to drug treatment and behavioral health programs.

"Our whole purpose here is, how do we elevate you out of that poverty," said Houser. "Is it through education? Is it through better employment opportunities? We figure out where they want to go and surround them with the tools to get there."

The shelter has only been up and running for 90 days, but it's already at capacity and has a waiting list.

Already, several residents have landed jobs and one young woman moved into a place of her own.

Tumbaga says incentives here play a big role in wanting to better her life. Right now, she's sleeping on a cot in a room with a few other young women. But by the end of the week, that's going to change.

"As we go on in, progress more towards our goals, getting our Social Security cards, our IDs, get a job, it moves us to a higher place. We get our own rooms," she said.

And on Thursday, Tumbaga will take her GED exam. From there, she hopes to apply to nursing school and eventually re-gain custody of her son.

"Her big driving force is getting back on her feet and having people be proud of her. She deserves that," said Houser. "All of these kids deserve for people to see them other than a bunch of street kids with no purpose."

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