October 16, 2003


Shelter creating place of safety for local youth

Several years ago, a police officer brought Diane Cook into the Daybreak shelter in Dayton when she was 14. She would return there eight more times to escape an alcoholic parent who had guns in the house.

During that period, she learned that Daybreak was a reliable place with a warm, safe bed where she could talk to people who understood her situation. She said she also made friends there whom she has kept in touch with for seven years. “Daybreak was just there for me when my family wasn’t,” she said.

Cook graduated from Fairmont High School in Kettering two years ago and then went through Daybreak’s independent living program, which helps older youth get an apartment and a job. She now works at the shelter and at Meijer’s while attending Sinclair Community College.

Though Daybreak, the Miami Valley’s only shelter dedicated to eliminating youth homelessness, has had many successes like Cook’s and has made a positive impact over the last 25 years, organizers are still trying to increase their outreach because they know there are still youth out there who need help, the organization’s director, Linda Kramer, said.

For the past few years the organization has been establishing visible safe places where youth can receive emergency counseling or be picked up and taken to Daybreak for food, shelter and more in-depth support. The bright yellow sign with the picture of a house and two people in a secure embrace has shown up outside libraries, fire departments and businesses in Fairborn and Beavercreek to designate a safe place.

Daybreak directors are hoping the Yellow Springs community can do the same.

Kramer and Daybreak director Cindy Minton recently gave presentations to the Yellow Springs Library Association and the Yellow Springs school board, two institutions connected with community youth, asking for support in establishing a presence in the village.

Having a safe place at a local business or public building would give local youth having trouble with family a place to go for help that is not far from home. From there, the host location would either arrange for on-site counseling with Daybreak or have the youth picked up and taken to the shelter.

Linda Hooks, the Daybreak safe place coordinator, said, “Some communities think they don’t have kids like that in their town. But we had one kid who walked from Fairborn to Dayton to get to us.”

William Firestone, a member of the Yellow Springs School board, supports Daybreak’s presence in Yellow Springs because the district’s graduation rate, in the mid-80s range, shows that the schools are losing some of their teenage boys and girls with substance abuse problems.

“I think this program could really help in this town,” he said. “It will provide more options for kids. It’s when options aren’t there that kids get in trouble.”

Yellow Springs High School Principal John Gudgel said that students at YSHS have run into trouble in the past and had difficulty finding a safe place to stay. He also sees value in the shelter’s anger management program, which offers counseling to youth. The program could add to the resources already available in the school system, Gudgel said.

Daybreak annually serves an average of 350 youth from ages 10 to 21 who have either been kicked out of their home or have left on their own because of domestic abuse or other issues, Kramer said. Over half of them come from violent homes in suburban areas and need a stable environment with services to help them work out their personal and family problems.

When youth first come to the shelter on Theobald Court in Dayton they have an assessment meeting with a trained counselor who arranges for whatever needs are most pressing. Daybreak staff are required to call the parents within the first two hours of the youth’s arrival. In most cases parents are thankful to know their children are safe and are also glad to have a temporary respite from them, said Minton, who lives in Yellow Springs.

Girls and boys stay in separate four-person rooms, and share common eating, recreation and lounging spaces. Though the youth are free to leave the shelter whenever they want, their time there is structured with counseling sessions, substance abuse classes and academic support tutoring. Older youth are also offered job-skills training.

When both the youth and the parents are ready, the youth usually returns home, knowing he can always come back if he needs to. The average stay is 10 days, and the shelter’s recidivism rate is less than 15 percent.

This year Daybreak received a grant from The Antioch Company. The funds came out of a pool the company gives annually to effective organizations in the Miami Valley. Daybreak must use the money to help the organization expand into Greene County.

“We thought that the whole organization presented a very compelling story about youth homelessness in the Miami Valley, and we felt it was something we needed to respond to,” Barbara Forster, grant coordinator for The Antioch Company, said. “Even if it helps a handful of kids it’s worth the investment.”

Establishing a presence in Yellow Springs is part of creating a profile of the greater Dayton area as a place that cares about and looks after its youth, Minton said. And because Yellow Springs is a tourist town, youth from other areas could see the safe-place signs and either use the service or talk about it with friends in their own community, she said.

In the next several months, Daybreak staff hope to set up three to five safe places in Yellow Springs, including at least one that is available 24 hours a day, Minton said.

“Every community needs to have a safe place for youth because they are the hidden victims,” she said. “Daybreak’s vision is a safe home for every child.”

—Lauren Heaton