They’re young and they’re in need, but the good news is that with the opening of Amici House this week, homeless residents between the ages of 18 and 25 have the opportunity to find a stable home. The $8 million youth housing facility that has been in the works for around three years is set to start moving in residents any day now.
Residents of this age group are a large and vulnerable part of the local homeless population, that’s why Amici House, a project from Tompkins County Community Action (TC Action) chose to target this group with a new facility. The 23-unit project only started moving the furniture into the building last week, but residents are expected to move in starting at the end of this week. There are four large apartments, one on each floor, reserved for three people. This could be two adults and a child, or an adult and two children. All the other apartments are built for one or two people, children included.
TC Action belongs to the continuum of care for Tompkins County out of the county Human Services coalition, which is a running list of individuals in the area in need of housing. When a vacancy in the building becomes available the next 18 to 25-year-old at the top of the list that fits the criteria for Amici will fill it.
The Learning Web, one of the main community partners that work with TC Action and helped identify possible residents, will have an office in the new building. On the first floor of the secure building is a conference room with a built-in childcare room so that residents with children will be able to attend building meetings. Next to the conference room is a large commercial training kitchen for residents to use if the bare-minimum kitchens in their rooms do not suffice. In the future, Executive Director of TC Action, Lee Dillon, hopes to use the kitchen to help residents build their cooking skills and even possibly open a small business in Amici House.
Later this spring, when the snow has melted and the sun returns, Dillon said TC Action will celebrate with a big open house party.
Just across the parking lot is the Harriet Gianellis Child Care Center, an Early Head Start facility with five classrooms designed to serve 40 low-income children that opened in September of last year.
“The idea was to have young people, and then have a Head Start center really close,” Dillon said, “so that these people, probably having children for the first time, can get some support from Head Start. And, because of their homelessness, they are categorically eligible immediately for Head Start services.”
If there are no available slots at the child care center, Amici House residents with children can receive Head Start services in their home until a space is available. Or, if they choose to keep their child homeschooled the services can stay in the home.
The only requirements to live at Amici House are that you are homeless or at risk of homelessness. For this particular age group, Dillon said the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allows for some leniency in the definition of homelessness. Whereas other projects would require that resident be homeless and without a place to stay, so couch surfing would not count as being homeless. For this age group, couch surfing is considered homeless.
“Kids are much more vulnerable than adults,” Dillon said of why this population gets the exception. “They get trafficked, they get abused, they get used, they get things stolen, beaten up.”
LGBTQA youth are even more at risk. Some estimates show that this population could comprise up to 40 percent of unaccompanied homeless youth. The project is permanent supportive housing but Dillon expects that residents will move on after about a year and a half.
“They can choose to stay here as long as they want,” Dillon said. “Most people leave at probably 18-24 months, I would say.”
Some residents choose to stay for a while simply because affordable housing around this area is difficult to come by. But residents who do choose to leave will find help with the search from TC Action.
“We will certainly help people move,” Dillon said. “We are working on life skills. How do you clean your apartment, how do you take care of your kid, what do you want to do with your life, do you want to go to school, do you want to get a job.”
While TC Action works to provide the housing and support, it’s the organization’s partnerships with other local organizations that bring in the expertise and skills residents need to move on. TC Action is not the specialists, Dillon said, but they have relationships with specialists.
Amici House is connected to the TC Action offices at 701 Spencer Road. While the project was being built the non-profit organization moved their offices elsewhere temporarily. Now, Dillon said the organization has plans to turn former Head Start office space into a youth emergency shelter since those offices have moved to Dryden and Groton. Several Cornell professors applied for and received a grant from Engaged Cornell to spend the Spring semester working with a designer and make recommendations for the shelter. The regulatory agencies for shelters, after reviewing the site, concluded that the space could house around 15 to 20 people.
While the offices were closed so was the TC Action food pantry, but that is also expected to open soon, hopefully, this spring. Anyone is welcome to use the food pantry, you do not have to be a Tompkins County resident or even a resident of any of the four housing facilities run by TC Action.
Amici House provides free laundry, linens, and dishes in the kitchen for all residents. Energy efficient air source heat pumps heat and cool the building. Just outside, the children of Amici House will have their own playground from Play By Design, donated by the grandparent of a Head Start recipient.