Group moves to temporary Sarasota safe space to continue helping homeless teens



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SARASOTA, Fla. — The lack of affordable housing affects different groups of people in different ways. One group adversely impacted and unable to independently work towards solving the problem for themselves are young or mentally challenged teens.

Despite some recent challenges, one organization that has been trying to help homeless teens get off the streets is making sure there’s a safe place they can lay their heads.

“We’re moving to individualized rooms versus dormitory-style rooms where we would have 10 youth in one room,” Jacqueline House with Safe Children Coalition Inc. said.

For 30 years, The Safe Children Coalition Youth Shelter was housed at the nearly 60-year-old YMCA Building on Briggs Avenue in Sarasota.

That building was recently sold and the shelter has now moved to a new but temporary facility. The new safe space is located on 6th street and would continue to cater to homeless and unaccompanied youths.

The teens who are helped by the shelter are usually between the ages of 10 and 17, dealing with behavioral or health challenges and other difficult life situations.

“The bunk bed allows us to serve a maximum number of children in this room, but not to have children who are not compatible or children who may have mental health issues in their background children, who may have sexual abuse issues in their background,” House said.

The new space is much smaller than the old YMCA building and has six rooms to house only 12 teens.

Most of the teens in the shelter are currently teens who have been displaced by Hurricane Ian. 

“Their entire family is homeless, they’ve been displaced and for them to find another location sometime is out of their reach financially,” House said.

Once adequate funding is secured, operators of the shelter, hope to build a larger state-of-the-art facility at a location on Sawyer Road. This would allow them to house the 20 homeless youths that they are licensed to have at a time and even more throughout the year.

The new facility, which is estimated would take two years to complete, would come with 12 rooms, office spaces and private counseling and intake areas.

The management has also made plans for more security to protect the teens from external influences that may get them into further compounding problems.

“A lot of the children that we serve, sometimes traffickers are coming by, sometimes people that they should not be exposed to are coming by the facility,” House said. “But with this, we would be able to determine who is coming and it is safer and more secure. 

‘We have restrictions in the parking lot that would not allow just random cars just coming up to the building. They are there so we actually know who is coming up to the building before they actually get there.”

The organization serves more than 200 youths between Sarasota and DeSoto counties with nearly 3,000 bed nights per year.

Those numbers represent teens who otherwise would have to sleep on the streets and the occasions they would have been forced to endure the elements before the safety of daylight to go to a school or workplace.

“For every teen that we’re able to take off the street, who is not homeless, they’re not looking to crime to survive, they’re not becoming victims of trafficking to survive and doing things that they would not necessarily do if they had a safe shelter,” House said.

The plans for the new facility are in the early stages and the team is planning to kick off their fundraising campaign soon. House said it would take millions of dollars to build the facility and the organization has already received one million of that from the Barancik Foundation.

To find out how you can help you can, visit the Safe Children Coalition website.