Shannon West Homeless Youth Center looking to expand

Tyler Vincent first tried crystal meth at the age of 18. Two years later, he was addicted to drugs and alcohol, living on the Las Vegas streets.

Vincent experienced a slew of violence and drugs during his four months with no place to live, sending him into depression.

While recovering from his suicide attempt in the hospital, he was referred to the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center.

“I had been beaten up enough on the streets to want a better life for myself and find the resources to change,” the 22 year old said with a quivering in his bottom lip.

The center gave him shelter, substance abuse treatment and helped him find a job.

Opened in 1993 as one of Nevada’s Centers for Independent Living, Shannon West is one of two Southern Nevada programs focused on the area’s young homeless demographic. It provides services specifically for homeless 16 to 24-year-olds.

Because the facility can only take in 65 youths at a time, there is usually a waitlist. But plans are underway to change that.

Abby Quinn, chief community relations officer for the HELP of Southern Nevada, the facility’s parent organization, hopes to increase the facility’s capacity to 120 beds by fall 2016.

HELP has coordinated with Clark County to relocate the facility. It’ll move from the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Foremaster Lane in North Las Vegas to an abandoned hotel on Flamingo Road at Maryland Parkway, Quinn said.

Publicly funded HELP provides services to homeless people of all ages. Funding comes from Clark County, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson, as well as private funding from various foundations. Shannon West’s current operating budget is $1.2 million.

RESIDENTS MUST WORK, GET EDUCATION

There are 34,397 homeless people in Southern Nevada, according to the 2015 Homeless Census and Survey. About 6 percent, or 2,232 people, are 24 or younger.

Edward Aponte, who’s lived at Shannon West for less than a month, waited for three days to get in. for three days.

The 23 year old said he came to Las Vegas from New York to live with his sister, but wound up homeless after she went to jail.

“I’m honestly glad that I met the staff and my peers,” Aponte said during an early August interview. “It’s pretty awesome that I can build here instead of being out on the street where I would be sleeping on a bus or underneath a bridge probably getting shot, stabbed or getting my stuff stolen.”

Young people live at Shannon West free of charge and as long as it takes for them to save enough money to live on their own.

Jenai Gaccione, the center’s program manager, said the residents’ rent is their participation in its program.

Their responsibilities include mandatory group sessions, life skills classes, meeting with their case manager and attending high school. If residents already have their diploma or GED, they must maintain a job.

“We’re not a facility where they can just come and sleep,” she said. “They’re gonna come here to change their life.”

Because the youths don’t have their own vehicles, a bus ride to work can take two to three hours for some of them, Gaccione said.

The center’s future location — four blocks from the Strip — will make the trip easier for Shannon West residents, Gaccione said, because many work in the tourism corridor.

RECOVER SERVICES ALSO PART OF PROGRAM

In July, 19 of Shannon West’s residents received substance abuse services; 17 were helped with their mental health issues.

The facility currently employs three full-time case managers. Quinn said the upcoming relocation will allow the center to bring on additional staff.

“We’ll be able to hire more case managers so we can take in more youth,” Quinn said. “There’s a lot that we will be able to do.”

Vincent for one, particularly appreciates the center’s Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups.

That’s in part because this is his second stay at Shannon West.

After residing there for four months and saving a few thousand dollars the first time, he left.

But it didn’t go well, he said. He relapsed, spent all of his money and lost his job.

His will to recover brought him back to the facility in June.

“I realized that I could actually change, stay clean and have a better life for myself,” he said.

As for Vincent’s next move, he wants to get a new job, save money and find a place of his own. He plans to keep attending the center’s group meetings.

“I’ve changed a lot. I was doping, for real. My addiction controlled my life,” he said, his voice breaking. “I felt that there was no way out, and this place has given me so much hope for the future.”

Contact May Ortega at mortega@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908. Follow her on Twitter: @MayVOrtega.

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