By Shirley Hawkins
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — As glowing candles swayed in the dark, dozens of former foster youth gathered on the steps of the Sanctuary of Hope headquarters Nov. 29 for a Candlelight Interfaith Prayer and Youth Voice Reflections ceremony to call attention to the plight of foster youth during Homeless Youth Awareness Month.
Concerned about the plight of foster youth, Janet Kelly founded Sanctuary of Hope in 2010, a nonprofit youth development and human service organization for young people between the ages of 16 and 25.
“I used to be the CEO at People Assisting the Homeless,” Kelly said. “One of the greatest challenges I faced was that I knew that younger people were falling through the cracks and falling prey to the homeless system. Most of them were Black youth and increasingly Latino and immigrant youth.
“My faith light bulb came on one day,” she added. “I quit my job and did a lot of prayer and sacrifice. Before I quit my job, I secured my [nonprofit status] and assembled my board of directors. We relied on individual monetary gifts from people who wrote checks to help us provide our first mentoring services and rental assistance support for the youth, including Mark Ridley-Thomas. There were a lot of people who helped us along the way.”
Since then, Sanctuary of Hope has expanded to include four locations and eight programs that provide wrap-around services for foster youth, including general counseling and therapy, life coaching, mentoring, housing resources, educational support, emergency services and financial assistance for under-resourced youth who are low-income, homeless, in foster care or on probation.
During the Christmas season, Sanctuary of Hope provides a program called Home for the Holidays.
“We try to resolve any conflicts that a young person might have with family members and urge them to reconnect with their family no matter where they are in the United States,” Kelly said. “Then we give [them] the fare to get home to their destination. We have helped 100 young people to reconnect with their families.”
Kelly’s mission is to eradicate homelessness for young people as much as possible.
“Prevention is the pathway to [ending] youth homelessness, or what we call ‘functional zero,’ and it is our belief that youth homelessness should be rare, non-recurring and brief,” Kelly said. “We are inviting all of our stakeholders to ensure that our young people receive all of the necessary resources and support to prevent them from entering into a homeless crisis.”
Nearly a dozen former foster youth delivered testimony about their personal trials and tribulations with homelessness during the Nov. 29 event.
Tyheime Greenwood, 21, and his brother Jayshod Greenwood, 19, said that they were living in a volatile household.
“My mom and I would get into it a lot,” Tyheime said. “One night, we had an argument and I left home. I walked around until 6 in the morning until I reached the Multi-Health Center in Long Beach. They helped me to get a motel room and my mother and brother joined me there. Then the center told me about Sanctuary of Hope.
“Sanctuary of Hope helped us, but it took about two years before we could get permanent housing.”
Since securing housing through Sanctuary of Hope, the brothers are living in their own apartments and said their lives have become more stable.
“My brother attends Long Beach Adult School now and is studying to get his high school diploma,” Tyheime said, “and I work at Contemporary Security Services.”
Pausing, he added, “I’ve been trying to get my mental thoughts together, meaning doing things as rationally as possible so that I don’t blow things out of proportion. I’m learning how to deal with my emotions because they used to get out of control.
“I do a lot of meditating now and I work on my energy.”
Thinking about his future plans, Tyheime said, “I would like to own some land one day and find true peace.”
Arthur Lee Richardson III, 24, said he had been in five different shelters since 2021.
“But then I found Sanctuary of Hope,” he added. “Myson, my case worker, told me about all the programs [Sanctuary] offers. It is genuine when it comes to their pursuits. They are helping me to get housing and I’m working on getting my certification for becoming an electrician.”
“Foster youth are very resilient,” Kelly said. “Our responsibility is to increase their resiliency. Having people in their life for mentorship and access to food and housing. We are connecting them to resources to maximize their potential whether it is education or employment.
“Anytime a person walks through our doors they feel safe. Sanctuary of Hope is a place where they can reconnect with a community and reaffirm their hope,” she added.
Sanctuary of Hope is located at 4003 W. Adams Blvd. It can be reached my phone at 323-786-2413.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.