Routz: For Homeless Youth Needing Additional Mental Health Support

Update: Youth move into the Aarti, housing for mental health services program through Routz

One of the most profound trends among the young people Larkin Street serves is around the need for more expansive mental health services linked to housing. In 2009, Larkin Street began planning with Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC)to expand our Routz program, which provides housing and wraparound support services for those in our care with the greatest mental health needs. We are pleased to announce that our capacity to house youth through Routz more than doubled when youth moved into the Aarti Hotel in November 2011. TNDC provides property management and Larkin Street offers case management, therapeutic services, and other wraparound supports to help residents address their mental health needs and build critical life skills. The Aarti is now home to 40 youth between the ages of 18 and 24, and we offer an additional ten youth scattered-site apartments in the community. After years of planning, we are thrilled to see the project come together and create a more robust and service-rich housing option for these vulnerable young people.

Given the trauma so many homeless youth have experienced during their young lives due to abuse or neglect in their homes and/or due to the violence and exploitation of life on they have seen living on the streets, it is not surprising that so many homeless kids suffer from mental health issues and engage in substance abuse. Mental health and substance abuse also may themselves contribute to youth becoming homeless, because parents or guardians are unable or unwilling to meet their behavioral health needs.

Once these vulnerable youth land on the streets, their mental health and substance abuse issues are often exacerbated due to the threat of violence and exploitation they experience living on the streets. Anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempts are alarmingly common among youth on the streets and many turn to drug use as a means of self-medicating and escape.

Larkin Street works closely with the City of San Francisco’s Community Behavioral Health Services to identify and link homeless and at-risk youth who are most appropriate for Routz housing. Once enrolled in Routz, residents have access through Larkin Street Youth Service’s continuum of programs and community partners like the Family Services Agency to intensive case management, psychiatric assessment and treatment, peer-based support, and job training.

Undiagnosed and untreated behavioral health issues contribute to long-term, chronic homelessness. Routz enables Larkin Street to intervene early and help youth along the road to recovery.

Every year Routz provides 30-40 mentally-challenged homeless youth with service-rich housing in San Francisco.