Homeless youth have a place to rest their heads with residential youth services and empowerment (RYSE).
While working with Waikiki Health and its youth out reach program, Carla Houser found herself wishing there was more she could do. Once the organization closed for the evening, there was nowehere for homeless youth to go—a fact that kept her up at night.
Sure, she would attempt to place kids in shelters, but it never seemed to be a successful match. Shelters are where “scary” adults go, a place not necessarily suited to the needs of adolescents. And, in fact, Houser notes that Point-In-Time Homeless Count data indicates that 92 percent of homeless individuals age 18-24 do not seek aid from adult homeless shelters.
“From that frustration, from that wanting to do more, is how RYSE was born,” says Houser.
Established in June, Residential Youth Services and Empowerment works with young adults age 18-24. Located in Windward O‘ahu on the grounds of Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center, RYSE is a housing program that offers two levels of support.
The first functions as an immediate solution for teens who need a place to sleep but aren’t ready yet to immerse themselves in a program. For this, RYSE offers eight beds—four for girls and four for boys—and also provides a hot meal and warm shower. To give them time to adjust to the idea of getting off the streets, youth at this level are welcome to stay at the facility with no time limit.
The second is much more involved and tailored to young adults committed to changing their lives. Limited to 12 participants, each gets their own room, as well as a place to cook, shelter and hands-on lessons in life skills (such as budgeting and cleaning). They also get access to programs RYSE offers thanks to community collaborators.
“RYSE doesn’t exist without the community,” says Houser, who serves as the organization’s executive director.
Among those opportunities is a low- barrier vocational program that equips youth with construction skills. RYSE also works closely with the state Department of Education, which helps participants get back on track academically. Its working relationship with YouthBuild Waimanalo, meanwhile, serves as a source of more vocational training and GED completion.
More importantly, though, RYSE seeks to help youth shed their traumatic experiences. It isn’t uncommon either, explains Houser, for them to arrive at RYSE having used substances to cope with their struggles, so part of that intake process sometimes involves detox as well.
And while RYSE may have only officially opened a mere months ago, it’s been full since. Its current waitlist numbers 17.
As RYSE moves forward, the organization hopes to expand its services to include more adolescent- specific behavioral and substance abuse health services. Houser also hopes to rack up more locations around the island. If all goes according to the organization’s five-year plan, RYSE will soon also be helping youth in the Leeward area, North Shore and town.
“My goal is to get our homeless youth system to function (at) zero, basically meaning there’s a bed for every young person who needs it,” says Houser. “I don’t believe there’s a safe level of homelessness for any young person.”
Houser estimates she has been working with at-risk youth now for about 20 years—and she’s already seeing RYSE work.
“These kids have had a lot of trauma and most of the time, it’s at the hands of an adult that’s supposed to protect them, that’s supposed to care for them and nurture them,” says Houser. “The fact that they walk through our doors and they’re happy to see us, and that they allow us to be part of their journey is really important for me. I celebrate the little things … the kid who has been in and out of trouble her whole life, but they keep showing up every day—that’s a win for us,” she adds. “If I can get a 19-year-old boy to do a sink of dishes, that’s a win for us.
“I have a few kids that are in this house right now that I’ve known since they were 13 years old,” she adds. “I had watched them struggle; I watched them lay low under the radar and not get picked up. No one ever reported them missing. No one cared that they were missing. Now, to have them be 18, 19 years old and to watch the growth in just a few short months of putting a roof over their head, allowing them to get some sleep, it’s like night and day.”
For more information on RYSE and to support the organization, visit rysehawaii.org