Youth homeless center opens in York City

Sean Philip Cotter

Now it's a daytime drop-in center in York City for homeless youth to grab a meal or use the computer to find jobs; soon, it aims to provide housing and expanded services for kids who need them.

The Philadelphia-based Covenant House of Pennsylvania held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday at its first York-area location at 307 E. King St.

Next week, the center will begin providing basic services for kids with nowhere else to go, said program director Sara Keister. Kids — teens, mostly — can drop in to get a meal, get help getting jobs or take a hot shower.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey, right, and Covenant House of Pennsylvania executive director John Ducoff speak at the opening of a center for homeless youth in York City.

"It's also about building good relationships with caring adults," said John Ducoff, the executive director of the statewide organization, who cut the ribbon outside the three-story building, which is owned by Bell Socialization. Often, he said, the kids the center will be dealing with have suffered abuse or neglect.

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Within about a year, Keister said, the organization hopes to remodel the top two floors, creating space for about 10 beds, so they can give shelter to homeless kids.

Terry Clark, the head of the county's Department of Children, Youth and Families, said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that he'd worked with the organization earlier in his career, and his department reached out to Covenant House, wondering if the organization would be interested in coming to York City.

"We have a lot of youth in need of a program like that," he told the people assembled after the ribbon cutting.

Clark has said the state has agreed to cover 100 percent of the program's costs with an initial $500,000 award. In August, the York County commissioners unanimously approved the one-year contract that will pay the organization approximately $23,500 per month.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey, who spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, said much the same as Clark about York City.

"It's a big issue, homelessness among our youth," she said.

The organization has a staff of four, including one person who's bilingual, speaking English and Spanish, and two longtime Yorkers. One of them is Danny Evans, a local pastor who has spent the last five years doing community outreach for the city's police department. Evans will now handle outreach work for Covenant House. He'll drive a van around town to places where young people with troubled living situations might congregate and approach them, offering them food, water and resources.

The way the organization suggests the outreach workers do it, he said, is not to just walk up to kids and ask if they're homeless.

"We walk up and say, 'If you know someone homeless, here's my card,'" Evans said.

That helps get the word out there without putting people on the defensive, he said.

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"They can knock on the door when they have nowhere else to go," he said.

Starting next week, the hours of operation during which kids can drop in are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday, and noon until 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

Evans said Bell Socialization also owns the building next to the center, and the organization hopes to expand into that, too, to help provide more space and services.

— Sean Cotter covers York City for The York Dispatch. Contact him or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.

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