Interfaith Housing Services won planning permission late last month for a project designed to help build a future for homeless young adults in the community.
The organization bought a large two-story house on 10th Avenue and Washington Street, around the corner from the Public Library Caddies, gutted it, and is now converting it into apartments.
Called The Lighthouse, it will welcome homeless young adults aged 18 to 22, said Lorna Moore, president of the IHS. The apartment will be mixed.
The new program will be administered by Interfaith’s Creating Assets, Savings and Hope (CASH) team, which will also provide participants with life skills workshops, financial services and a buddy program. savings.
The CASH team also recruits members of the community to be part of the mentoring teams for each of the residents.
“Interfaith is committed to being an agent of change in the lives of our future leaders,” said Lacy Stauffacher, director of CASH. “We are excited to see how the resources provided by the LightHouse program will help students build a strong future.”
Fall in the bucket, but a start
The need is great, local youth advocates said. Estimates suggest that up to 150 young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 could be living in cars, couch surfing or squatting elsewhere in the community.
“We’re transforming a house neighbors called ‘meth mansion’ into a haven for disenfranchised youth,” said Jeff Thomson, director of community revitalization at Interfaith, which is helping lead the renovation. “It’s a pretty cool project. There is a lot of community involvement. »
Plans are to create eight apartments in the nearly 3,900 square foot house, which was built in 1887.
The building permit estimated the value of the construction at $300,000. Community service tax credits raised approximately $175,000.
Prior to withdrawing the building permit, about 20 volunteer groups spent nearly 2,000 hours over six months gutting the house, Thompson said. Many were volunteers with the Conservative Anabaptist Service Program (CASP), which falls under Christian Relief Ministries.
In the program, volunteers between the ages of 18 and 25 carry out service projects across the country, living, for up to a month at a time, where they work.
“We were getting groups in January and February from Virginia, Iowa, Indiana and a number of other places,” Thomson said. “We have a volunteer house (on Avenue B) that they stay in.”
Long in the works
Interfaith had been in talks with the owner since 2019, Thomson said. The original plan was to use the house as transitional accommodation for young men coming out of prison. Then, Interfaith officials learned about the needs of young students who became homeless after becoming adults.
“It was well-built originally,” Thomson said of the house, which presented its own challenges for demolition. “It was supposed to be one of the nicest houses in Hutchinson (when it was built.) Then it got a few makeovers. It became apartments in the 1940s. It was in the 1990s that the apartments began to deteriorate.
“I was told by a police officer that at some point in history this was where they start if they had a drug warrant to serve,” he said.
After gutting the interior, crews recently began framing the walls and repairing the house’s foundation.
“It will be eight studio and one-bedroom units,” Thomson said. “These will be small units. Nothing they will really be comfortable in and stay in for a long time.
Most residents will stay for a year or two, at most, he said.
“I hope the churches and organizations in the city will adopt a hall (furnish it) and walk alongside the young people to help them,” he said. “Teach them how to pay utilities or title a car, apply for a job, etc. We hope there is also a spiritual piece. At the end of the day, we’ll get eight young people through, get them off the couches or off the streets, out of their cars, into citizens who are making their way through life.
In addition to the size of the project and handling COVID-19 surges, construction supply issues add to the challenge, Thomson said.
“We need to install exit windows that are big enough to get out, to give a second exit from each apartment” to meet fire codes, he said. “We ordered them in October. They are supposed to arrive at the end of February. Stuff like that.”
Besides volunteer construction labor, they work with the local electrical trade school to do the wiring for a fee, while other contractors offer discounted rates, Thomson said.
There will be eight individual apartments, each with an entrance, kitchenette and bathroom. Some will be studios with a combined living room. The tentative goal is to have the accommodation available by the start of the next school year, depending on Interfaith securing enough funding to complete the project and all supplies arriving.
The students — they haven’t determined whether it will be all high school students or if some attend Hutchinson Community College — will pay rent based on income, including utilities.
The need is often hidden by the fear of asking for help
Moore said she learned of the need from her granddaughter, a student at Hutchinson High School who had several homeless friends.
She then spoke to Nikkee Byard, director of Salthawk Community Support, to find out what a problem it is at Hutchinson. Moore referred the suggestion to the Interfaith Council.
“We felt we had to do something,” Moore said. “Everyone agreed, that’s why we changed direction.”
The success of the first project, she says, may determine whether they do more.
Byard, whose program at Hutchinson High School runs a “closet” for teens, which provides clothes and toiletries to those in need, said it’s hard to put an exact figure on the number of homeless students in the community, as defined.
“If a family moves from house to house because they don’t pay rent, it’s always an unstable living situation,” she said. “But for some of my students, their parents may have kicked them out so they’re couch surfing (sleeping on the couches of various friends.) … I know whole families live in a car or a hotel.”
Things have only gotten worse with the pandemic, Byard said, with greater stress on families.
Often, if they’re told to leave when they turn 18, “they have nowhere to go, no money or a job that can help them stay on their own,” Byard said.
“A lot of people don’t know it’s in the community because kids are really trying to stay under the radar,” she said. “Honestly, it’s in every community.”
Help beyond a roof or couch
They are often not mature enough to share an apartment with someone else, even if they can find one, as many landlords often don’t want to rent to someone that young.
“Some are hard workers and go to work and try to live with others, but they’re often not mature enough to do it and things don’t work out,” Byard said.
It’s also why the community mentorship program she runs is so important, she says, so people have someone to guide them.
“This house will be so useful,” Byard said. “And hopefully that can develop into others, to be a landing point until they have the skills. Our biggest hurdle in town is finding landlords. They can say, “I’ve been here a year and I’m doing great,” and hopefully an owner will see that and give them a chance.
Moore noted that they are always looking for churches, businesses, organizations and individuals willing to help not only with the renovation of the house, but also with the furnishing of the apartments before the students leave. move in, as mentors and “with random acts of kindness during their stay.”