The needs are great, and they’re growing.
Stable housing. Jobs. Transportation. Food. Education. Limited family support.
“It seems to be difficult for a lot of folks in our community to understand that it’s not one or two needs. It’s quite a range of needs,” says Brenda Day-Bevis, executive director of the D.O.R.S. – that stands for Developing Opportunities Realizing Success – Youth Transition Center.
“Oftentimes, housing is unstable, and that can range from two young people we’re working with right now that have been living in tents off of the Loop by Wal-Mart in the trees to living in their car to sleeping on the park bench,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just bouncing from couch to couch or a pallet anywhere they can find. Unstable housing is probably 75 percent of that situation. One hundred percent are far below poverty.”
The nonprofit organization was born about five and a half years ago, from what was the Stragent Foundation. The foundation participated in a number of community projects.
“The last thing, which was the biggest thing, was to open a youth transition center,” says Day-Bevis, explaining that the foundation has since ended and D.O.R.S. became its own nonprofit organization. “We opened that based on the results from the United Way Community Needs Assessment that they do every three years.”
That survey showed there was a tremendous need to serve at-risk youth ages 15 to 25.
“The mission of our only program … is to empower homeless and at-risk young people to move past obstacles to success by establishing a central support system linking them to community resources,” she says. “Our vision is to provide a safe place for youth; provide a youth-oriented network of support programs and services that prepares youth to become respectful, responsible, and reliable.”
Program participants are referred by school districts, churches, the Department of Family and Protective Services, judges, probation officers and others.
The youth transition center has “two-and-a-half” employees, who help develop a transition plan to help each participant move “in small steps” from “homeless and helpless” to independence, according to information Day-Bevis provided. They attend various educational classes while securing a birth certificate, state ID or driver’s license, paying off debts, enrolling in GED or college programs and gaining stable employment and housing.
“By the time they come to us, they often have nowhere else to turn. Those that stick with our programming and achieve successes are motivated to achieve goals that will provide a better situation on the short term and a better life on the long term….” Day-Bevis says. “Because successes are celebrated and built upon, we have seen participants continue to succeed long after they have left the program.”
Kamekia Gray is a D.O.R.S. participant who has moved into its follow-up program. She first turned to D.O.R.S. when she found herself pregnant with her first child, working a minimum wage job while driving back and forth from Longview to Tyler Junior College. She was concerned about her housing situation with her parents. She entered the housing and Job Ready! programs, which helped her transition to independence.
“The Job Ready! Program just kind of guided me to know what’s appropriate to wear, what to say, what not to say. It helped me with interview process,” Gray says. “It just got me prepared to look at things in a different way.”
She found a better job and she gradually paid for more and more of her own rent at the apartment D.O.R.S. helped her secure.
“It was just to get me responsible for ‘this was reality,’” Gray says. The organization also helped her get the items she needed for her home and for her new baby.
D.O.R.S. has continued to encourage and support her, including helping her land her current job as an administrative assistant and receptionist at the Ross & Shoalmire law office in Longview. D.O.R.S. board member Kristen Ishihara is an attorney there. D.O.R.S. helped Gray pay for daycare initially for her son, who is almost 4 now.
She’s expecting another child, and Gray says she’s planning on training to become a paralegal with Ishihara’s help.
Through counseling D.O.R.S. provided, Gray says she sees she wants to push her children to be the best they can, to always be positive.
“I don’t know where I would be honestly with D.O.R.S right now,” Gray says.
The youth transition center does not have a facility to house homeless youth. It has been paying to place homeless youth in apartments, although that effort was greatly reduced the last part of 2016 when grant funding for that program abruptly ended.
“We have desperately wanted (a facility). That is in the strategic plan, but that’s a big thing to try to achieve,” Day-Bevis says. “It certainly is our desire, because I don’t think there’s anybody closer to the homeless youth population than our organization. There’s no emergency shelter available for youth so we definitely see needs.”
D.O.R.S. carried 144 existing clients over from 2015 to 2016 and had anticipated serving 98 new clients in 2016. Day-Bevis says the organization started turning people away when it reached that number mid-year.
“That’s the thing that keeps you awake at night,” she says.
Still, there are successes, like Gray, every day.
“That’s kind of our fuel to keep going,” Day-Bevis says.
Those successes include a young man who had a sixth-grade education and had trouble securing a job. He had no transportation and no stable food or housing source. He participated in the D.O.R.S. Job Ready! Program job preparation class, and, now he’s had stable housing for almost two years and the same job for two years.
Another young woman was homeless, pregnant and without transportation when she came to D.O.R.S. She completed the D.O.R.S. transitional housing program and the organization helped her locate affordable housing, pay her deposits and furnish the apartment. Her toddler is happy, safe and healthy, Day-Bevis says, and the woman completed Kilgore College’s phlebotomy program. She’s been working full-time, with benefits, for almost one-and-a-half years.
Day-Bevis cherishes a card she received from another program participant, addressed to the “wonderful women at D.O.R.S. who have been there for me at my darkest times.”
“I felt alone about what to do to fix my life. You all have been there. My deepest thanks.”