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York City youth home to offer stability for growing homeless population

Construction begins inside what will be Cornerstone Youth Home at 484-486 West Market St. in York City, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A youth home for boys in second through fourth grades will be open in York City come November — a response to a growing homeless youth population in the city.

“Really the goal is to provide stability for these students Sunday through Thursday,” said Sara Gray Bradley, executive director of Cornerstone Youth Home.

On Friday and Saturday, children will be able to leave and stay with their families, and the home will also have an open-door policy so family members can come visit, share meals or take their children to activities.

More:Spring Grove Area, Central teachers to open homeless shelter in York City

Cornerstone will use the McKinney-Vento definition of homeless, meaning the home would also be open to those who have inconsistent or transient housing.

The idea is to take the pressure off parents while they also receive up to five years of mentoring through the Community Progress Council's self-sufficiency program to address obstacles such as addiction, job security and education, Bradley said.

Sara Gray Bradley, the executive director of Cornerstone Youth Home, is shown in what will be one of seven bedrooms on the second floor as construction begins inside 484-486 West Market St. in York City, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. The home will house 8-12 boys in second to fourth grades. Dawn J. Sagert photo

It's hard for parents to keep academics on track when they don’t know where the family will sleep at night, she added.

Funded primarily through local area foundations for $500,000, the boys' home is slated to open mid-November, beginning with eight to 12 boys.

They will be referred by their schools or the state and live in nine bedrooms at 484-486 Market St., with round-the-clock caregivers, after-school tutoring and instruction in life skills, such as chores and cooking.

Bradley said she's even hoping to have an affiliated Boy Scout troop, if feasible.

Cornerstone will be seeking development opportunities for its $290,000 operating budget and an additional $500,000 for a girls' home it plans to open within the year.

The boys' home was slated to open at the start of the school year in September, but the coronavirus had other plans.

“The world kind of stopped,” Bradley said.

More:'Everything has changed': Homelessness in the COVID-19 crisis

The idea for a nonprofit youth home, however, came about long before the pandemic.

The rate of homelessness in York County has been on the rise for the past five years, and nowhere more prevalent than in the York City School District, where 494 of the county's 1,385 identified homeless youth reside, according to the most recent year of data from Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12.

Jacob Kistner, of BLM Construction & Remodeling LLC, based in West York, works as renovations begin inside what will be Cornerstone Youth Home located at 484-486 West Market St. in York City, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. One of the tasks for the day would be removing the lead-lined drywall that was in place when the room previously functioned as an x-ray room in a dentist's office. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Though that number is down from the previous school year, the high of 608 in 2017-18 can be attributed to three hurricanes that year which displaced and brought more than 200 students to the district.

Given the rising numbers, a York City teacher about five years ago envisioned the home — so named because it stemmed from a mission-based project in the city's Cornerstone Baptist Church, Bradley said.

The home is based off the dormitory-style Milton Hershey School for at-risk youth and several similar programs, Bradley said, adding that the concept was adapted to fit York County's unique needs.

Sara Gray Bradley, the executive director of Cornerstone Youth Home, stands in the reception area as construction begins inside 484-486 West Market St. in York City, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. The home will house 8-12 boys in second to fourth grades. Dawn J. Sagert photo
Jacob Kistner, of BLM Construction & Remodeling LLC, based in West York, gather debris to dispose of as renovations begin inside what will be Cornerstone Youth Home in York City, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Though the church is still heavily involved, it is no longer leading the youth home, which has become its own 501(c)(3).

The plan is to add the girls' home, followed by a home in the district with the next-greatest need: Red Lion Area — which had 106 homeless students in 2018-19.

The long-term goal will be campus-style housing in York City to serve a much larger number of youth.

Bradley anticipates this year’s homeless numbers to grow considerably with rising unemployment and evictions, after Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will not be able to extend a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures that was in place for about six months to aid families during the pandemic.

More:Wolf won't extend state's eviction moratorium, office says

Construction began last week to renovate the boys' home, and once students are enrolled, they would be expected to commit to at least a year, Bradley said.

Sara Gray Bradley, the executive director of Cornerstone Youth Home, is shown in what will be one of seven bedrooms on the second floor as construction begins inside 484-486 West Market St. in York City, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. The home will house 8-12 boys in second to fourth grades. Dawn J. Sagert photo