Project 16:49 changes focus, makes progress

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, October 17, 2013

JANESVILLE—Project 16.49 hopes to hire a social worker in November and begin admitting homeless youth to its programs in December.

"We are still in the process of finalizing all of the intake process, forms and assessment we're going to need and use. So, we're not formally bringing kids into the program, yet, but we're hoping to by December," Executive Director Tammy DeGarmo said. "One of the hold-ups is we're waiting on our liability insurance."

Project 16:49 plans to provide support, resources and access to information for homeless teens who are separated from their families. Supporters estimate Rock County has 160 homeless, unaccompanied youth.

DeGarmo was named executive director in July.

Other developments with the project include:

Focus change. Project 16:49 initially was focused on providing shelter for homeless youth, but its focus has shifted.

"It's not just about having a roof over these homeless youths' heads and a safe place to stay. It's also about having resources in place to help these kids have both a home and that support/case management person to help them navigate the system to be able to take the next steps in their lives," DeGarmo said.

“Building housing for homeless youth here is not being considered at this point, but buying or leasing is," she said. "We've looked at a few properties, but they haven't worked out. An official location team is being organized this week so we can develop a strategy and start looking more actively for a building."

Funding. An application is being prepared for a five-year federal grant that could result in $100,000 to $200,000 each year starting in 2014. Announcement of grant winners is expected by April.

"Some initial dollars can be used for a building acquisition and renovation," DeGarmo said.

Hiring a social worker/case manager. The goal is to start taking job applications and make a hire in November. Until the position is filled, two board members acting as homeless liaisons in the Janesville and Beloit school districts and graduation coaches in high schools throughout Rock County will continue to work with homeless students.

Partnering with Safe Families for Children. This independent, Chicago-headquartered program is just getting started in Rock County. It connects youths who need help to host families who are willing to open theirs homes.

"So, if a kid has two years of high school left, needs a place to stay and is not able to reunite with family, another place is lined up where that teen could possibly stay with this family for two years," DeGarmo said.

Host families are not paid, so licensing is not required, but families go through background checks and screening, she said.

Money raised. The board has raised just more than $200,000 to sustain the organization while programming gets set up.

"We will be able to do more formal fundraising once a case manager is hired, the grant is written and some things are in place. We're registering as a charitable organization and setting up all our finances," she said.

Office space. The Beloit School District is providing office space in its KOLAK Education Center, and YWCA Rock County in Janesville is allowing Project 16:49 to use its mailing address. The YWCA also is accepting and processing online donations for the organization.

Work continues to qualify Project 16:49 with the Internal Revenue Services as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

"We have our own bank account, but the YWCA is our fiscal agent until our 501(c)(3) status comes through," DeGarmo said. "We applied in May and got confirmation saying the process started in June. Realistically, we may have to wait until after the first of the year, but that's not holding us up."

New board members. Pastor Jim Melvin of First Lutheran Church was voted to the board last week. The board in November is expected to add Rock County Judge Alan Bates, who presides over juvenile court.

"Four other people are in the process of joining the board," DeGarmo said.

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