The LOFT: Housing for Homeless Teens
Not every homeless youth who comes to Larkin Street Youth Services has the option of going back home. If reuniting with family is possible for underage youth, Larkin Street works diligently to facilitate this. But when it’s not, kids up to 18 years of age or kids emancipating from the foster care system can make their home at Larkin Opportunities for Transition (The LOFT).
The LOFT is a 9-bed transitional living facility and licensed group home designed specifically for homeless teens and runaway teens who have been living on the street. The LOFT is a stable home for these kids as long as they need it, giving them the chance to do the things others their age should: complete their education, make new friends, and prepare for adulthood.
The at-risk and homeless kids who live at The LOFT have similar histories as other the youth at Larkin Street. Most have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, and extreme neglect. Many struggle with substance abuse issues and have special mental health care needs. And these kids are often impacted by street violence which continues to occur in their old neighborhoods and affects their friends and families.
The LOFT is different from other group homes and foster homes where many kids of this age end up. This Larkin Street Youth Services program uses a system of natural rewards and consequences which follow from the choices these youth make for themselves. This unique model reinforces positive behavior that supports the individual goals set by the kids themselves with assistance from LOFT staff. The LOFT thus emulates the sort of structure that healthy families use with their own teens. There are curfews, chores, and other expectations. Kids receive privileges for behaving responsibly, and limitations (somewhat like being grounded) for breaking the rules. This method provides youth with the opportunity to be accountable and trustworthy.
All residents at The LOFT develop educational goals. They each attend some sort of daily school or educational program. They also engage in intensive job training, career readiness activities, and interest-based activities such as photography classes or school sports. These experiences help at-risk and homeless youth to develop life skills such as budgeting, cooking, and managing conflicts with roommates, which they need to become self-sufficient after they move on from The LOFT.
Like participants in all of Larkin Street’s residential programs, residents at the LOFT receive individualized case management, access health and mental health care, find opportunities to socialize with peers who understand their past experiences, and receive mentoring and support from caring adult role models. When families are unable to provide the support these kids need, The LOFT is there to bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood for our most vulnerable youth.
Every year, the LOFT keeps 20 kids off the streets of San Francisco.