York City youth home to offer stability for growing homeless population
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.