Raven Project’s loss of funding ‘devastating’

Transitional housing for youth also curtailed when grants don't materialize

The Raven Project is located on T Street in Eureka and provides critical services to at-risk youth across Humboldt County. A severe lack of funding has curtailed many of the services it offers. (Ruth Schneider — The Times-Standard)
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A small gray house on T Street in Eureka is home to the Raven Project, a Redwood Community Action Agency program serving at-risk youth in Humboldt County.

Most days, lately, the closed sign is in the house’s front window.

“Due to the loss of funding, some positions have been eliminated or not filled,” said Maura Eastman, director of RCAA’s Youth Service Bureau, which oversees the project. “My position is one of those.”

Her last day on the job is Jan. 31. Two other positions were vacated last year and there are no plans to fill them.

“In the short-term, we have asked people to volunteer to help keep some of these programs running,” Eastman said.

Programs affected include the Raven Project, which offers street outreach to local homeless youth and a drop-in center providing basic necessities, from clean socks to showers. It also connects youth with local services. The Launch Pad, which provides temporary housing for up to 21 months for youth ages 18 to 22, also lost funding.

Queer Coffee House, a weekly meeting for LGBTQ youth ages 10 to 21, is now entirely volunteer-run.

The Raven Project House is open less frequently because of a lack of funding. (Ruth Schneider — The Times-Standard)

Funding conundrum

Historically, program funding came from three federal grants of $200,000 annually over three years.

“We have lost a few grants in the past,” Eastman said. “… Normally, you reapply the next spring.”

But two of the three grants were not awarded this year, said RCAA executive director Val Martinez.

“I am reaching out to different entities to see if there are funds to supplement the services,” Martinez said. “I am working with a consultant to review the programs overall and see what suggestions he has so we can make an informed decision on how to provide the services to the clients that we serve.”

Peter LaVallee is that consultant. He’s also a former Youth Service Bureau director who’s spent decades advocating for disadvantaged youth.

“It’s gonna be tough at first,” he said. “… The challenge for anybody in the nonprofit world trying to provide services is to find meaningful programs out of those disparate funding sources.”

He points to some state funding programs geared toward the homeless.

“Housing is part of what young people need,” he said. “There is a homeless youth population in Humboldt County and I would make the argument, as many people do, that that population shouldn’t really be served with the adult homeless population. They have different needs. They have different demographics. There’s a really large population that is LGBTQ. But this housing money is there and we need to apply for it.”

Nearly 200 foster youth age 10 and up live in Humboldt County, its Department of Health and Human Services states. LaVallee said the county’s last point-in-time count of homeless minors — 82 — is likely an undercount. In stark contrast, Roger Golec of the Humboldt County Office of Education said there were 1,496 homeless students in transitional kindergarten through 12 grade in local schools. Eastman said 400 homeless and at-risk youth utilized Youth Service Bureau programs last year.

Colorful murals surround the driveway adjacent to the Raven Project house. (Ruth Schneider — The Times-Standard)

A unique resource

The Raven Project is a unique resource in Humboldt County, said Tedi McVea, a social worker in Texas who credits the program with helping cement her career path.

Fifteen years ago, McVea was a teenage runaway who found refuge in a Youth Service Bureau emergency shelter.

“It was available for youth for two weeks at a time. … I would stay there for two weeks, then go home for one day and the issues would resurface,” McVea said. “Then I would go back to the shelter.”

She lived off and on in the shelter for two months before finding transitional housing through the Launch Pad and a job as a Raven Project peer educator.

“They took me in, wrapped me up and changed the trajectory of my life,” McVea said. “Not only was I helping educate people that were having a hard time, I was taking material that changed my own life. Then I was put in a position to help train other homeless youth.”

She left the project in 2009 at age 21, with five years of work experience.

“I went to a social work program in Texas and now I work as a social worker,” McVea said.

Hearing about financial challenges facing the Raven Project and RCAA’s other youth programs hits close to home.

“For me, that is devastating,” she said. “Now I live in a big city. If one program isn’t funded, there are other programs. That’s not the same in Humboldt.”

Former Raven Project program manager Julie Ryan stands with former Raven youth Zech Engdahl, who is now 28. Ryan said she sees former Raven youth around town and they often share stories of their own success with her. (Julie Ryan — Contributed)

Helping ‘youth thrive’

Julie Ryan, Raven Project program manager from 2009 to 2011, said it was “one of the toughest jobs I ever loved.”

At that time, she said, the project was open for drop-in hours four days a week, twice the time it’s open now.

“My experience was kids really liked talking to me when they found out I did not have a social work degree,” Ryan said Thursday afternoon. “I was someone who wasn’t entrenched in ‘the system.’ But I was a safe adult and they knew I was a mandated reporter.”

Work she began a decade ago continues today.

“I learned a lot about the community through the youth’s experience,” Ryan said. “I feel like it’s a huge need. We would have groups like Queer Coffee House which is a safe space for LGBTQIA youth. I helped the youth start a queer prom, which has been happening every year since 2010.”

She said she still runs into Raven youth who are among the project’s success stories.

“It kind of slays me when I run into them — and they’re in their mid-20s now — and I get a little choked up,” Ryan said. “They know you want them to do well. Because there is so much shame around poverty and homelessness, having a place where you can be a person and be yourself … those kinds of environments really help youth thrive.”

How to help

To volunteer or to contribute to the Raven Project or other youth-oriented programs through RCAA, contact executive director Val Martinez at 707-269-2001.

Drop-in hours at the Raven Project are from 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays and Fridays. Queer Coffee House meets on Tuesday evenings at 5:30 p.m. The Raven Project house is located at 523 T St. in Eureka.

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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