MYRTLE BEACH — A center that provides a safe place for homeless youth to “drop in” could close at the end of the year after it did not receive a federal grant that typically funds the program.
Project Lighthouse, a program run through the nonprofit Sea Haven, was not awarded a $105,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the first time in 14 years, said Sea Haven Executive Director Christina Jackson. That has left organizers scrambling for the money to keep the center – the only one catering to homeless youth in the Myrtle Beach area – open.
“We can stay open through the end of December, but we have not found any long-term funding yet,” Jackson said. “We’ve made numerous requests to local South Carolina foundations for grants. … The uncertainty of it is tough.”
The program provides a drop-in center off Highway 15 near Third Avenue South in Myrtle Beach for youth who are living on the streets and works with youth ages 16 to 22, but won’t turn those who are younger away, Jackson said.
She said she was told Project Lighthouse did not receive the grant because of federal budget reductions and an increase in applicants. Now the group is looking for other ways to fund the program.
Jackson said Project Lighthouse has received some smaller donations to try to make up the $100,000 that is needed to support the program’s $120,000 annual budget.
Project Lighthouse offers anything that can help homeless youth in their daily life, Jackson said. The center served about 120 teens in 2012, said program director Antquan Smith, and many teens come back multiple times.
“We have lockers for them to keep their things in,” Jackson said. “And there’s a ‘fun house’ that has a pool table, ping pong, music, art station. It’s a place for them to relax.”
Smith said the young people who use the center are mostly shocked when they hear it could be closing soon.
“It’s a reality check to know that the center might be closing and the services that we provide the youth won’t be here anymore,” Smith said. “We’re the only advocate for homeless and at-risk youth in Horry County.”
Kathy Jenkins, executive director of New Directions – a consolidation of groups that work with the city’s needy, said she is not aware of any other groups nearby that offer a place for homeless youth to spend time during the day.
New Directions formed earlier this year to streamline services offered to the city’s needy. The Center for Women and Children, Street Reach Ministries and Life Line, the domestic violence agency that replaced Citizens Against Spouse Abuse, combined resources to form the New Directions operating board.
Jenkins said New Directions is focusing on working with organizations that specifically offer shelter to the homeless. New Directions shelters do not offer a place for homeless people to spend time during the day and don’t accept anyone under age 18 unless they are with a parent.
Project Lighthouse also offers a clothes closet, showers, a laundry facility and workout area with weights.
The program is part of Sea Haven’s street outreach, which operates with the hope of helping youth transition off the streets.
“The first few visits we’re not going to be able to talk to them about getting off the streets,” she said. “Eventually we’re able to refer a lot of our street kids to our transitional living center.”
Sea Haven also operates an emergency shelter and transitional housing for youth, and the funding is there to keep those programs going, Jackson said.
Smith said Project Lighthouse does a lot of the legwork to help start to get youth off of the streets and into stable housing.
“We’re kind of like the ‘ground zero’ when the youth come in,” he said. “We try to transition them to our shelter service and then to the point where they’re able to live on their own.”
The program also operates a mobile outreach where they go to known youth hangouts for two hours two days a week and offer snacks, water, hygiene products, educational information and other items needed to survive on the streets.
Smith said Project Lighthouse is trying to hold a fundraiser soon to keep the center open, but the details were not finalized as of Monday.
“We’re kind of taking it one day at a time,” Jackson said.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.