Refuge for abused kids to open in East LA

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With foster kids in Los Angeles experiencing high rates of homelessness, dropping out of school, and suicide, a new center opening in Lincoln Heights aims to offer aid to the most at-risk teens.

The Leonard Hill Hope Center, scheduled to open its doors Thursday after a $3 million building renovation, will primarily serve children referred to the Violence Intervention Program's mental health clinics. While the clinics provide mental health and physical health services to kids in the foster care system and low-income clients, Hailey Jures, director of special projects, said the agency is increasingly realizing that's not enough.

"Their needs are so beyond medical and mental health care," Jures said. "We really want to give them the skills and the support to go the extra mile so they can lead long, successful lives."

The new center will aim to provide job support, college application help, referrals to housing providers, and group activities and classes. The space is also designed to be a refuge for LGBTQ kids, teenagers who are parenting, and other groups facing unique challenges.

According to VIP, by the age of 19, half of female foster kids are already pregnant or have a child, while just 46 percent have graduated high school and 45 percent are homeless. 

The agency's adolescent clinic, which opened a few years ago, was VIP's initial foray into creating a separate space to provide health and mental health services to these high-risk populations. At the moment, the wait for an initial appointment at that clinic runs six to seven months because of high demand, Jures said.

Homelessness among teens and young adults in L.A. has particularly come to the spotlight lately. The last homeless count, conducted in January, tallied 5,847 children and young adults (24 or younger) in L.A. County, excluding Long Beach, Glendale, and Pasadena, which do their own counts. That's a 65 percent jump from the year before—a rise officials have partially attributed to better counting methodology.

Jures said the clinics have seen the rise.

"Housing has always been an issue and it's only gotten worse," she said, particularly on the East side of town, which has seen rapid gentrification, she said.

"It's really making it hard to find places for our clients," she said.

The center will not solve all those problems, she said, but will provide a wide swath of resources not currently available to most teens in the area. Funding for the rehabilitation of the property came from private donors. The County of L.A. will have a role in staffing the center going forward.

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