Monday, July 30, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Jonathan Reeves’ favorite feature of his new apartment is one of the simplest – the door locks.
After months spent crashing on the couches of friends and drifting in and out of the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center in downtown Las Vegas, last month Reeves, 21, moved into a new studio apartment at St. Jude’s Ranch Crossings, a supportive housing program for homeless young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.
“It feels good to be able to close the door and lock it behind me,” Reeves said.
Reeves’ cozy new apartment comes furnished with a bed, couch and television, as well as a fully equipped kitchen to cook meals, one of Reeves’ favorite pastimes. The smell of fried chicken from the previous night’s dinner still lingers in the air as Reeves, who plans to enroll at the College of Southern Nevada this fall, speaks hopefully about his future and what having a place to call home means to him.
“This is something I needed for me to gain success. You can do so much with a stable living situation,” he said. “(Before), my goal wasn’t school, it was more for work. I needed to provide for myself. Now that I’m able to do that … I can continue my education.”
The Crossings, near Tropicana Avenue and McCleod Drive, is the first St. Jude’s Ranch campus outside of Boulder City in the nonprofit’s 45-year history. It features 15 new studio-style apartments decorated in hues of orange, green and yellow. The furnished units are arranged around a central, grassy courtyard that includes a space for grilling and socializing.
Since opening in June, the $3.1 million complex has seen five residents move in, and staff hopes all the apartments will be filled by the end of August. With approximately 1,000 homeless young adults on Las Vegas’s streets, the need for the units is great, and few services outside of homeless shelters cater specifically to that demographic.
“In our community, we need productive 18- to 25-year-olds,” said Christina Vela, St. Jude’s Ranch regional director. “If we can encourage and foster a sense of hope in the lives of these young adults, I really believe the sky is the limit for them. … We can have some amazing young adults that go on to do incredible work.”
The project was paid for using a combination of funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Clark County’s Continuum of Care program, and is fully funded for three years.
The goal is to have residents stay for about a year, Vela said, during which time the young adults are required to either find a job or enroll in school and begin preparing to transition to independent living.
Tenants are required to sign a lease and pay a portion of their income as rent. St. Jude’s Ranch then saves the rent payments, Vela said, and returns 90 percent to the residents when they move out to be used for security deposits, furnishings and other costs associated with moving into a new apartment.
During their stay, residents will have a case manager and work to develop independent living skills like financial literacy, self care and job skills.
“When they come here, our goal is to figure out where they’re going next,” Vela said. “(We) start identifying where they’d like to live when they leave us. We can help them start dreaming and thinking about ‘If you’d like to live in this kind of apartment, what kind of job or budget would you need to pay rent there?’”
In addition to helping homeless young adults, Vela said the program also would benefit the broader community.
Approximately 70 percent of children nationwide exiting the foster care system will be homeless within 18 months if they don’t receive further services, Vela said. The cost of one “disconnected youth” can run up to $5 million over the course of a lifetime, as costs for welfare, corrections, health care, unemployment and homelessness add up.
Nineteen-year-old Abby was one of those youths at risk of becoming disconnected. After entering the foster system at a young age and moving to New York with her adoptive family, Abby, who asked that her last name not be used for privacy concerns, returned to her hometown of Las Vegas when she was 16 to try to reconnect with her biological family.
After a few years, she found herself homeless, staying at shelters and “couch bouncing” between friends’ houses.
Abby moved into St. Jude’s Ranch Crossings a few weeks ago, and has spent much of her time looking for a job and attending classes at the University of Phoenix, where she is studying for a human services degree in hopes of one day helping children in situations like hers.
“This is a perfect stepping stone for me to save up, find a job, learn how to live by myself and be independent,” Abby said. “When the program ends, I’ll be ready (to live on my own).”
For now though, Abby is enjoying her new apartment and contemplating ways to decorate the space to make it her own.
“It feels like home,” she said.