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Program Highlight: Youth Emergency Services (YES)

I had the humbling experience to participate in Youth Emergency Service’s “Day in the Life Tour,” last week. It all began in 1974 when a group of older adults were inviting homeless children on the streets of downtown Omaha to sleep in their homes. After waking up to their kitchen cabinets painted green, they decided it was time to open up a separate facility where these youth could come for food, shelter, and rest. YES now has grown to serving over 1,000 Omaha kids each year. Their services include a Drop In Center, Youth Street Outreach, an Emergency Shelter, a Transitional Living Program, and a Maternity Group home.

I met the group at the Drop In Center on the corner of 26th and Harney. The Center is a modest building equipped with a small lobby where clients can access computers, a classroom space which also serves as the dining room during weeknight dinners, a small kitchen where donated food is kept warm, a pantry, a washer and dryer, and restroom equipped with a shower. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the pantry shelves are emptied with a flow of kids, ranging from the ages of 12 to 22 who have come to rely on their weekly grocery bag. These bags are replenished weekly by a local church group who packs each bag with groceries, hygiene items, and even baby needs. I was stunned to learn that 30% of these youth are, or are preparing to become, parents themselves. Diapers are the second largest need they have behind monetary donations.

YES’s Drop In Center also offers mental health counseling, group therapy, medical attention from the VNA, life skill classes and other volunteer taught sessions. One volunteer came to teach creative writing and the kids loved being able to express themselves in a positive way. A survey was conducted last year among the YES clients that reported nearly 2/3 of the children were showing symptoms of depression. Being able to have a positive therapeutic outlet is vital for a group so susceptible to mental health issues.

We were welcomed to the Emergency Shelter by two young men busy at work in the kitchen, and by the delicious aroma of spaghetti cooking on the stove. The home-style shelter has a community kitchen and family room where clients spend a lot of their free time together. The boys and girls rooms are separated, and all teens living at the shelter work with a case manager and follow a list of guidelines. Some of these requirements include going to school, maintaining a job, attending group or private therapy sessions, attending life skill workshops, and completing community service hours. The Transitional Living Program is available for teens and young adults ages 16-21 who are working toward independence.

The Maternity Group Home is available to current and expectant homeless mothers. The girls who live here have many of the same rules and guidelines that the Emergency Shelter kids have; however, they also have pregnancy and parenting classes. After two months all of the youth who are working are required to begin to pay rent. After 18 months, they will be ready to “graduate” from the program and they all will receive 80% of their rent money back to use toward an apartment deposit or something that will help further their independence.

I am so happy that I was able to see first-hand the amazing services Youth Emergency Services  has to offer the homeless and at-risk youth of Omaha. Not only does YES provide immediate assistance for children and teens in need, they invest in educating them on the skills needed to become a productive, resourceful, and happy adult.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day….
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

To learn more about Youth Emergency Services, go to: