‘We are mom, dad, everything’: Helping former foster kids find a home

West End Neighborhood House has 23 homes for ex-foster children and is building room for 10 more young adults. The agency is also creating a drop-in center.

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Stacy Shamburger says West End's new housing units will provide homes for young adults who have left the foster care system. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Stacy Shamburger says West End's new housing units will provide homes for young adults who have left the foster care system. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Inside the shell of a two-story rowhouse being renovated in west Wilmington, a worker drills holes in the flooring base to make way for plumbing lines.

There’s a long way to go but the rooms are framed, the stairs built and sometime this year, the building will open as a comprehensive drop-in center for young adults experiencing homelessness.

Stacy Shamburger of West End Neighborhood House will oversee what she says is shaping up as a unique “state-of-the-art” facility for young adults who the group calls “housing insecure, if they are not stable in a family unit or connected to their community.”

“They’re able to come and receive support,’’ Shamburger told WHYY News this week. “If they’re needing food, if they need a shower, if they need to do laundry, if they need to have an address for mail, we can use all of our facility to be able to provide those types of services.”

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The drop-in center will be a nexus for an expanding housing and service initiative of West End Neighborhood House, a social service center that serves as an anchor for the moderate- to low- income neighborhood.

West End’s Lifeline program currently has 23 clients who aged out of the foster care system living in its fully furnished homes. The aim is to help them learn how to live independently and be integrated into the neighborhood, which also includes St. Francis Hospital and St. Anthony’s church and elementary school.

Homes for another 10 people, including those with disabilities and in the LGBTQ community, are currently being built or renovated.

Shamburger walked a reporter around the neighborhood this week to show off some the coming and current homes, and explain how West End provides services to this vulnerable population.

The rent gets paid through government subsidies, as well as money that clients get by working or through public assistance payments.

Shamburger stops at a one-story brick building under construction, pointing out that it will be compliant with the American Disabilities Act.

“So we are completely outfitting it so that we can make sure that we can house any youth, if they’re deaf or blind of non-ambulatory. It’s completely wheelchair accessible,” she said.

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This row house being renovated will serve as a drop-in center for young adults experiencing homelessness. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Asked if that’s a need for young adults experiencing homelessness, Shamburger doesn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely,’’ she says. “We have a few that are in wheelchairs and then we have some that are in braces and there’s one that lives with us now.”

Next door a three-bedroom unit is being built. She doesn’t know who will live there yet but said three of the 10 new units will be reserved for LGBTQ clients who have aged out of the foster care system or become alienated from their families.

“A lot of them, if they are homeless it’s because their families don’t accept them. Their communities, or churches, whomever,’’ she said. “So they end up out on the streets. And a lot of times they are very hard to account for.”

‘We are a family unit for them’

She turns up the street to a block of two-story homes with clean brick and porches, saying five more of LIfeline’s three-bedroom homes are there. Another one being renovated for clients has been staffed until now by Lifeline employees. They will soon move around the block to the new drop-in center.

No clients were available for interviews when WHYY visited, though one woman walked out her door and waved hello while we were on a nearby porch. Shamburger said some were working that day and others have mental health and/or substance abuse issues and were not prepared to discuss their situations. “It’s not fair to them,” she said.

Standing inside the home being renovated, she touts its amenities, including washers and dryers so clients don’t have to go to a laundromat, and dishes, silverware and other kitchen supplies and utensils.

“Everything is set up for them,’’ she said. “We provide all the bedding, anything that you would need.”

It’s not just shelter and supplies that Lifeline provides for these young adults who have already faced significant hurdles as children. Shamburger’s team helps them develop life skills.

“They generally will age out of foster care with a book bag full of their stuff or a trash bag,’’ she said. There are up to 300 such children a year, and the state provides them with life services programming through contractors like Lifeline.

“So this gives them stability,’’ she said. “Outside of the housing aspect of it, we are a family unit for them, if you will. We are constant and consistent and we are here, pretty much staffed more than 16 hours a day, six days a week at this point.

“So we are very accessible. So our youth know that they can come right next door and knock on the door and let us know what they need if they need assistance” with what she calls ADLS — active daily living skills.

“We can take them grocery shopping.  We teach them how to make a grocery list. We assist them in preparing a meal,’’ she said.

“How to clean their home and how to properly do laundry and how to take the trash out and how to, you know, do whatever is it that they need to maintain their home.”

West End Neighborhoood House provides housing for 23 former foster kids and is building space for 10 more of the young adults who have nowhere to call home. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Lifeline also offers help with transportation, educational services, counseling, and job training programs, among other services, even getting clients outfitted with the proper attire for a job interview — all with the overarching goal to propel them to sustainable independent living.

“We are pretty much mom, dad, judge or probation officer,” Shamburger said. “We are everything rolled into one.

“We’re trying to make sure that they learn how to be good neighbors, that they give back to their community and that they have the supports and the know-how to do that. There’s no point in kind of isolating people. We want to make sure that all of our youth feel like they are a part of their community and grounded in it.”

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