September 15, 2015 12:00 AM
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Allegheny County Department of Human Services has selected social services agency Auberle to run a drop-in center for young adults who are homeless or transitioning from foster care to independent living.
The “412 Youth Zone” is set to open in December on two floors of the Wood Street Commons building in Downtown Pittsburgh. JoAnn Hannah, manager for the human services transitions program, said the department’s independent living service grant, which receives state and federal funding, paid for the one-year, $2 million contract with the McKeesport nonprofit.
County officials said the project is the culmination of a department-commissioned study that estimated about 240 unaccompanied youths — homeless young adults between the ages of 18-24 — live in Allegheny County and work already underway by human services staff to help young adults move from foster care to independent living.
Kathy McCauley, the consultant who compiled the study, suggested a full-time drop-in center among her recommendations. The county chose Auberle from among eight plans it received after issuing a request for proposals for such a program in February.
“This population of young people has always been very important to Auberle,” John Lydon, the agency’s CEO, said in an interview. By creating a “one-stop shop,” he said, “we felt we could make a difference.”
Young adults ages 16 to 24 who are currently in, or recently left, the county’s foster care system are expected to be the facility’s primary users, Ms. Hannah said.
“I’m excited about the potential to serve as many young people as we possibly can,” she said. “… This has been a long time coming — and it has to be that way, and I understand that — but I’m really raring to go.”
The 13,000-square-foot center will include a common area that can fit 400 people and be adapted into smaller spaces; a fitness room; showers; a laundry facility and short-term child care. Visitors can work toward their GED with the full-time instructor on site, or earn a food handlers’ license in the full industrial kitchen, Ms. Hannah said. At least one registered nurse will be on site.
Thirty-five Auberle employees will work at the center, and the agency’s 27 partners will assign staff there on varying schedules, Mr. Lydon said.
Some of the center’s features started as suggestions from members of the human services youth advisory board, which includes young adults in the independent living program. Some of those young people named the facility and will play a role in its design. Construction is set to begin in the coming weeks.
About $400,000 of the grant — plus funds from the building’s owner — will pay for renovations, and $1.6 million will go toward running the center and the program of the same name.
Mr. Lydon said starting next month, Auberle will receive all referrals from the county for young people in this age group, discuss their goals and “connect them to services that will make their plan a success.” Before, other agencies or county staff did this.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @molly_born. Mary Niederberger contributed.