Thursday, July 14, 2005 | 10:53 a.m.
A taxpayer-funded program with $1.3 million for youths who turn 18 in the state's care has hit roadblocks in its first month under a new nonprofit organization.
Some youths said they have had to miss work in order to pick up checks and that they have faced fees for late payment of rent.
The changeover from the stewardship of the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth to Child Focus, both nonprofit organizations, has led to delays in getting checks for rent to youths who "age out" of foster care, and other snafus in the program.
This means that about 300 youths enrolled in the program are "being victimized by the abrupt change in administration," said Serwind Netzler, who runs a Web site that trains foster parents.
Child Focus took over managing the program -- called Step Up -- July 1, after the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth announced in mid-May that it would be giving up the job.
The program helps youths with housing, health care, transportation and other needs.
And though conversations about transferring the program to Child Focus were under way almost immediately after the announcement, Clark County approval of the transfer wasn't made until July 6.
Money wasn't put into the bank until July 8, said Allison Herr, president of the nonprofit organization's board of directors.
Additionally, the county -- in charge of handing the money down from the state to Child Focus -- asked the organization to change some of the procedures for handling the way youths are helped. That made certain processes take longer. The changes have led dozens of youths like Darnell Richardson, 18, to make trips to the organization's Las Vegas office more than once in the last week in search of checks to pay July's rent.
In Richardson's case there have been five trips.
On July 5 he couldn't find the office. On July 7 he had to fill out an application, despite having been enrolled in the program under the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth.
On July 8 he was told to come back Tuesday, and on Tuesday, he was given a check dated for June, not for July.
During this time, Richardson -- who said he was in the state's foster care program since he was a baby and was homeless for a few weeks after "aging out" of the system when he turned 18 last August -- said he called Child Focus numerous times and was never able to get through.
He also said he was going to be charged a $50 one-time fee plus $25 every day after July 10 in late fees.
"This shouldn't be my responsibility," he said. He added that some of the dozens of teens he saw at the Child Focus office on Flamingo Road and Spencer Street were facing eviction if the checks weren't cut soon.
On Wednesday Harvey Brown, hired by Child Focus to manage the program, said he had cut checks by Tuesday for all those who owed July's rent.
A call to Richardson's apartment to see if his situation had been resolved revealed that his phone had been disconnected.
Herr said such problems at Child Focus as the phone not always working were due to the need to work out kinks in a newly-rented office, including getting a single phone line installed when multiple lines were ordered.
The recent changeover, however, is not the first obstacle to hit the program.
The program grew out of a 2001 legislative bill that created the fund from filing and copying fees that recorders statewide charge to customers. The state disburses the money to the county, which in turn passes it along to the nonprofit organization running the program.
But until the Sun revealed in January 2004 that about 90 percent of nearly $2.1 million had been unused at the end of 2003, the program had not achieved its goal, which was to help a population that studies have shown is at risk of becoming homeless and involved in drugs and other dangerous behaviors.
At the end of the year-plus since the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth finally began receiving the money, at least 300 youths were enrolled in the program, said Kathleen Boutin, executive director of that organization.
As of Feb. 4, Susan Klein-Rothschild, director of the Clark County Department of Family Services, the agency that receives the money from the state, said there were 214 youths between 16 and 18 in foster care who may be eligible for the program soon.
In June, the last month in which Boutin ran the program, a total of about $225,000 was disbursed to participants -- including $77,000 in the last week of the month in order to cover as many people for July's rent as possible, Boutin said.
Boutin also said her organization made money immediately available to the youths for such services as rent, health care or food and that Child Focus should do the same.
Herr said the start-up period has been difficult, given that her organization has changed from having only one part-time employee and a volunteer staff to three full-time employees and new office space. Also, the county has handed down some new procedures in the effort to make sure youths don't misuse the money.
She said the situation would improve soon and that her organization would be monitoring the program to make sure it is effective.
"We want to make sure we're meeting needs -- if not, we'll push the county to make changes."