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DreamCatcher helps homeless teens

Submitted by on 1, August 17, 2009 – 5:50 amNo Comment

91112Alameda Family Services’ DreamCatcher Emergency Youth Shelter was a long time coming, the product of years of working out the best way to help homeless teens.

The nonprofit started out with host homes and moved on to provide shelter in a church basement as a partnership with a second nonprofit agency before finding the best mix of homelike atmosphere and services in an old Victorian in Oakland.

“Having a home makes a difference,” said Nika St. Claire, the program director who runs the shelter. “We do everything to be as homelike as possible.”

The eight-bed, co-ed shelter serves what St. Claire calls runaway, thrown away and homeless teens ages 13 to 18 by giving them a roof over their heads, meals and more. Even with its small size – and an estimated, countywide teen homeless population of about 300 kids at any given time of the year – St. Claire said the shelter never turns kids away.

“We also provide just a safe place to chill,” St. Claire said.

In addition to the shelter, DreamCatcher operates a support center that offers meals, a laundry, counseling, a health clinic and a long list of additional services.

The shelter is named after the Native American dreamcatcher, which captures bad dreams but allows the good ones to pass.

The shelter can serve youths for up to 21 days, during which they work out a plan to house them more permanently. About a third go home, and a third more, to transitional living programs. A third end up in the foster care system or into other programs.

Many are fleeing abuse, St. Claire said.

“If you’re 16 and you’re still forming your identity, and you’ve got no family, there’s a lot of shame attached,” St. Claire said. “We’re stand-in family for a while.”

DreamCatcher is making its way toward a 10th anniversary next year, but it is facing a steep uphill climb to get there: The shelter has lost a third of its funding this year, the victim of deep cuts in foundation grants.

“We are struggling to survive,” St. Claire said.

They’re looking for donations of money primarily, but the shelter could also use hygiene supplies, bedding, clothing store gift cards, movie passes and Christmas presents – “whatever you know that teenagers like,” St. Claire said.

She said people can also provide their time, like the basketball team at St. Joseph’s Notre Dame High School, which drops by once a month to cook a meal.

If you’re interested in helping out, give Alameda Family Services at call, at 629-6300. Checks can be mailed to Alameda Family Services, Attention: DreamCatcher, 2325 Clement Avenue, Alameda, Calif. 94501. And if you or a teen you know needs help, call DreamCatcher’s intake line at (800) 379-1114.

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