SPY: The new center is open. Courtesy photo

Safe Place For Youth (SPY), one of the only agencies serving homeless youth in Los Angeles, is operating out of a new location due to the pending construction that will transform their former home into an integrated housing/services center.

Venice Community Housing is planning to build Lincoln Apartments at 2469-2471 Lincoln Boulevard. VCH will create 40 new units of affordable, supportive housing including studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms. Preliminary plans include open space and the preservation of important community services of Safe Place for Youth (SPY) on the ground floor.

In the meantime, SPY is temporarily relocating its Access Center to 340 Sunset Ave. and while the location has changed, officials said SPY’s core services are not only continuing but are likely to see increased efforts.

Erika Hartman, the new Executive Director of SPY, said she working to restore services hampered by pandemic safety protocols and is particularly focused on job training and placement services that help form a long-term foundation for lifting clients out of homelessness.

She said many SPY clients were among the first wave of job cuts experienced by hospitality workers during shutdowns.

“We do some assessments of our members in terms of the things that are causing their homelessness or priorities for them in terms of services and one thing that I thought was super interesting was the number one thing that our members have been needing was employment,” she said.

According to Hartman, lack of jobs was among the top three stressors for homeless youth alongside lack of money and food.

She said jobs, and the desire to work, are an important pathway out of homelessness but the disruption to that employment highlighted the precarious nature of life for homeless youth. Homeless youth lacked the resources to be able to weather prolonged unemployment and for many the loss of access to public space had a knock on effect for their employment status. They used public restrooms or other facilities to prepare for a work environment or possible interview which is why reopening SPY’s in-person services are critically important to returning youth to the workforce.

“I think that people were particularly hard hit initially and that it’s now our opportunity to try to help folks get job ready and come back in. And I think that maybe that’s also reflective of some of the reasons that young folks have been coming for services, is that’s now a priority to get job ready and get back out there.”

She said that while moving is disruptive, the chance to build supportive housing is incredibly important to SPY’s long-term goals and that efforts to lift youth out of homelessness are some the most impactful as they can prevent individuals from succumbing to a lifetime of poverty.

“When we think about all the encampments and how troubling that is for folks, we often hear that we don’t want our children walking through encampments to go to the park or we don’t want our children walking paths by encampments to go to school and one of the things that we’re contending with is that we have young people that live in the encampments and that we don’t want that either. Because the sooner that we can move them out, the less likely that they’re going to be permanently chronically living in encampments.”

Aside from the apartment project at their former location, the organization is also trying to expand other housing programs that include placing youth with volunteer families and operating housing options themselves.

“We want to figure out how to expand our housing assets and we are looking for different types of creative housing,” she said. “We have been doing apartment style living with folks, so having other people either, share rooms or having our nest sites with our young families. So we are looking for more four bedroom houses that we can master lease and then rent to young folks. And, you know, I think that’s been a challenge is that even just finding people that are willing to rent space to homeless service providers. Yeah, it is its own challenge.”

Hartman said the organization is always interested in finding new businesses to connect with whether it’s for housing or job opportunities.

“We’re always looking for employers that can hire members, different types of community partnerships and, figuring out where folks can help plug in,” she said.

For more information on SPY and volunteer/donation opportunities, call (310) 902-2283, email info@safeplaceforyouth.org or visit https://www.safeplaceforyouth.org/volunteer_opportunities and https://www.safeplaceforyouth.org/in_kind_donations.


Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...