Statement From YouthCare CEO on Casa de los Amigos Program

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Fri, 06/22/2018

As people who are committed every day to ending youth homelessness, it has been excruciating to watch families at our nation’s borders being ripped apart. The trauma of fleeing unspeakable violence in one’s home country is now being compounded through inhumane and racist policies inflicted by our government. This makes me cry, scream, and shake with rage.

YouthCare categorically condemns the atrocities at the border and demands that the government reunites the families they have actively separated.

In recent days, we’ve fielded multiple inquiries about our work with immigrant young people, and I wanted to clarify our programming and advocacy at this time. Please also read the FAQ on YouthCare's Casa de los Amigos Program.

For more than 10 years, YouthCare has been home to a program called Casa de los Amigos (Casa). The majority of the young people we meet at Casa are unaccompanied minors who have arrived to the United States alone. They are fleeing war, gang violence, human trafficking, and extreme poverty. Many of their families have been shattered by bloodshed and they are seeking safety.

Casa de los Amigos serves up to 20 youth at any one time, ages 12 to 17. It is supported by the Division of Unaccompanied Minors at the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), and is affiliated with the Federal Administration on Children, Youth, and Families—which focuses universally on youth who are homeless, or without family, across the U.S. The news has appropriately focused on the appalling warehouse environments where youth are being held. Casa de los Amigos is not a detention center and, YouthCare is not—nor will ever be—an ICE grantee.

Every day, our goals in Casa de los Amigos are to: 1) focus on family reunification for every youth whenever possible, and 2) provide loving and dignified care.

While at Casa de los Amigos, each young person receives customized supports including legal assistance, case management, physical and mental health care, and education. Our staff is multi-lingual and dedicated to providing familiar and culturally representative food, helping youth decorate their rooms and select clothing and school supplies, and securing any needed products or services that would help to make a young person feel as valued and cherished as possible, especially during such a challenging time.

Since its founding, Casa de los Amigos has served minors who have crossed into the U.S. by themselves. Recently, however, a small number of young people have arrived at YouthCare who need our support because they have been separated from their families and are suffering under heartless federal policies. This shift both motivates YouthCare to avidly fight for change and reinforces our commitment to young people: every young person facing homelessness due to trauma and loss of family connection deserves an opportunity to be safe, to be supported, and to build a thriving future.

We actively advocate for no young person to experience homelessness, and for no young person to be separated from family by force, trauma, or poverty. Until there are no more youth who experience trauma—or who experience homelessness at all—we will provide care for those who need help today. Currently, we’re working on efforts with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, The Office of the Governor, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, and U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. We thank them for their leadership.

I share, with permission, some reflections from a staff leader at Casa. She has worked tirelessly to support her incredible team, all of whom have dedicated themselves to serving young people under very trying circumstances.

I know we are all feeling so much – sadness, outrage, confusion on how this can happen. Be bold in your advocacy and educate those around you. In the midst of hundred-bed shelters and thousand-bed influx shelters, our 20-bed program is a true safe-haven for these kids. Focus on the joys of seeing youth learning, dressing up for activities, and dancing with new friends... As well as the bittersweet goodbyes as youth are reunified with family, and the countless small moments of growth, companionship, and solidarity between them all. I see the work you do, centered in humanity and with a depth passion and empathy that is beyond measure. 

In painful times like these, we must be unrelenting in our daily work to provide youth safety and support. These young people are not experiencing trauma in some other place—they are right here—fighting for tomorrow and a childhood. They are, and will always be, a part of the YouthCare family.

Many people have asked what young people in our care need at this time. Every day, in every one of our locations, and in every one of our services, we are meeting young people who have left behind a home nation to find freedom, safety, or opportunity. Here is a special wishlist that our teams compiled of regularly needed and requested items. You can also find them on our Amazon wishlist and have them sent directly to us.

  • Athletic shoes in sizes 5,6, and 7
  • Duffle bags
  • Diaries and journals
  • Craft Supplies
  • Knitting supplies
 

It can be so easy to lose hope and be consumed by rage at times like these. Never give up. Our young people need us now, more than ever.

In solidarity, Melinda 

Melinda Giovengo, PhD
CEO
YouthCare
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FAQ on YouthCare Casa de los Amigos Program.pdf109.41 KB