A new daytime haven for homeless youth and former child welfare recipients in Allegheny County is experiencing its first successes.
Since its soft opening on Jan. 26, the 412 Youth Zone has seen about 400 young people ages 16 to 24 come through its doors in the Wood Street Commons building downtown.
Staff members said a core group of about 10 to 15 young people come in to the center every day it’s open.
Once inside, they can take part in free services provided by the center and its 30 partner organizations – or just hang out.
“One of the important aspects of the Youth Zone is this opportunity to have a place where you belong, a place where you can come and you’re welcome, where you can just sit down and study. You can take a break and watch TV. It isn’t all about services,” said John Lydon, CEO of Auberle, the McKeesport nonprofit organization that runs the Youth Zone.
The Allegheny County Department of Human Services helps fund the center.
Lydon said the total target population of about 1,500 former foster children comes from communities across the county, both urban and suburban. He estimated about 200 of that population are homeless.
In addition to providing a sanctuary for children and young adults aging out of the county’s foster care system, the Youth Zone puts on a wide variety of programs meant to help those youths succeed as adults.
“There might be a class going on, on handling credit, or getting your own checking account,” Lydon said. “There may be a program on how to dress for an interview or for a job position. There might be opportunities where people may be doing testing for job aptitude. They might be coming in for medical services.”
One of the partners, Duquesne University’s law school, has students help young people at the 412 Youth Zone with common legal issues like landlord-tenant disputes.
“People occasionally take advantage of our youth and feel, ‘Well, you’re not going to be able to sue me, so I’m going to take advantage of your situation,’” said Lydon. “A number of issues of discrimination happen to our youth. They get involved in contract issues, issues with credit card companies.”
Lydon said one of the youths has found a job after taking part in some of the center’s free programs.
The 412 Youth Zone will hold its official dedication on Wednesday, March 16.