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When 19-year-old Georgia Teylor found out she was pregnant, she was financially cut off from her family, moving from shelter to shelter.
While homeless in the East Bay area, caring for both herself and her soon-to-be-born child, Teylor struggled to find a program which would help her prepare to become an adult and a mother.
At four months pregnant, she came across a shelter that gave her the number for Sacramento’s Tubman House. She was admitted within weeks. In a matter of months, her life completely changed.
“If I hadn’t gone to Tubman, I’d probably be dead or in jail,” Teylor said. “My son wouldn’t be the happy, healthy boy that he is today. Now I’m employed, responsible, I’m an honor roll student, and none of this would’ve happened without the positive support from that house.”
For 10 years, Tubman has been federally funded, providing an 18-month window for guiding homeless youth, 18 to 21 years old, toward stable lives for both themselves and their children. But without notice, the shelter management received an email from Runaway and Homeless Youth Services (RHY), a federal program that is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which supports transitional living and emergency shelters for young people. A list of organizations that would receive funding for 2013 was attached to the email -- Tubman was not on it.
“For the first time in our entire history, we thought we were ahead,” Bridget Alexander said, co-founder of Tubman House.
But 60 percent of Tubman’s budget was cut without notice as October approached – the beginning of the fiscal year.
Tubman representatives contest the grading of their grant application -- a grading that they assert doesn’t match up with their 10-year success.
Alexander made her way through the bureaucratic maze, calling and emailing state representatives of RHY. The response she received was difficult to understand.
“RHY reps told us we didn’t do anything wrong, and that this just happens,” Alexander said. “But if we’d found out in July, we could’ve planned for this.”
Congresswoman Doris Matsui wrote a letter of inquiry to the U.S. Children and Family Agency.
In the letter, Matsui asks the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families to look into the concerns about the grading of Tubman’s application and to reconsider the cut if the application was inappropriately scored.
Tubman isn’t the only long-running transitional living program to be cut. The 20-year-old Bill Wilson Center, a Santa Clara-based program identical to Tubman, found out from RHY representatives that a grant would not be received.
Calls and emails to RHY and the Family and Youth Services Bureau were not returned by publication time.
Before hearing the news, Tubman had, ironically, set up an online funding stream as a way of gaining more independence from federal funds. The donations are now crucial for the shelter and its residents’ futures.
“We have gone from 100 percent to 60 percent dependence in five years, but now that funding has been cut, it means that building a community network in a small amount of time is the only way to sustain the program -- it’s going to mean a network committed to giving $30 a month.”
Tubman is accepting tax-deductible donations on its website, wakingthevillage.org. And some good news came to Tubman Wednesday as the Sierra Health Foundation, supporting health-related activities in 26 northern California counties, has joined Tubman’s campaign as a match partner. It will match every donated dollar up to $25,000.
Tubman owes some of its current independence to ArtBeast, an art studio in Midtown Sacramento founded by Alexander and co-founder Blithe Raines four years ago. It provides a space for children to experiment with different forms of creativity. All of its revenue is used for sustaining the Tubman House.
ArtBeast also hires past and present residents of Tubman as well as volunteers.
“We don’t see minimum-wage employment as a solution,” Alexander added. “More important work is for them to be moving toward a career, getting in college.”
During the residents’ 18-month stay, they engage with counselors and childcare specialists on a path toward independence. Tubman staff seeks to avoid establishing a permanent shelter with temporary resources.
“The first question we ask our residents is where do you want to be in five years?” Alexander said. “When you make someone feel safe and you create a space, you usually get very realistic, very healthy goals.”
Many residents consider Tubman more than a place to simply eat and sleep, they consider it a place to learn and study. The living room is a space for growth: Bookshelves carry a wide selection of educational textbooks to help residents focus on their goals and their individual schedules are posted on the walls.
Kim Berrios and Douglas Taylor were admitted to Tubman last year when they were 19. The couple lived in one bedroom with their year-and-a-half-old son and a daughter on the way. As they worried about the everyday necessities of food and shelter, Berrios and Taylor didn’t have time to think about their education or their futures.
“We were using all our brain space, all our energy on finding out how we’ll get by,” Taylor said. “It’s so much more than a roof and a bed -- it’s a learning experience.”
(Image by: Tubman House)
The couple sought opportunities every chance they could, but like many other residents, their path to Tubman was full of obstacles
“I went to a community center after my son was born, and they didn’t really have any answers for me – nobody would sit down and talk to me, not even a book was referred to me,” Berrios said. “We tried to go to a community college, tried to go to counseling, we didn’t even know about financial aid before coming here.”
Their young son and daughter are also growing under Tubman’s childcare programs. While Berrios and Taylor attend class and meet with counselors, their two kids play and interact with the other resident’s children.
Twenty-one-year-old Sunomi Kurtis and her son came from a shelter where they didn’t feel safe -- their things were stolen. After she was admitted to Tubman in April, her relationship with her 1-year-old son was unstable. She worked with Jill Olmstead, a clinical social worker whose focus is on strengthening relationships between parents and their children.
“My son had problems with hitting and biting, and now he doesn’t have those problems,” Sunomi said Kurtis, a current resident at Tubman House. “I was shown skills I can use on a daily basis to interact with my son more, showing him the love and attention he needs.”
In a matter of months, Kurtis received her GED, her husband found a job, and they learned how to save money.
Many of Tubman’s past and present residents have rallied together amongst the confusion of this recent news. As the house pushes to stand on its own, seeking monthly donors in the place of federal funding, they have raised enough money to sustain their program for November.
“I can’t imagine that the community won’t hold this up,” Raines said. “I have faith that we will do everything in our power, our spirit, our community building to make that happen -- I have to see and know that this program will be around for the youth.”
To find out more about Tubman and how to donate, go to wakingthevillage.org