Homeless youth being released from the Suffolk County Correctional Facility will soon have a place to go.
On Feb. 25 at 11 a.m., Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco's office and the sheriff's youth reentry task force will gather for a ribbon-cutting for a new house sited on the Timothy Hill Children's Ranch -- and meant to house homeless youth who have been released from the Suffolk County Correctional Facility.
According to DeMarco, the home was reconstructed with the help of inmates from the Riverside jail's vocational training program, and will be "a safe and rehabilitative place for some of our homeless youth leaving the special youth program at the facility."
The home will have beds for four young men and a counselor.
In 2011, the Sheriff's Youth Tier Initiative was launched with a mission of promoting a successful transition of incarcerated youth from ages 16 to 19, from jail to life in the community.
Still in its pilot phase, so far, 51 young men have participated in the program and plans are in the works to expand the program.
The housing sub-committee is one branch of the program. In 2012, two housing options for homeless and displaced youth were identified. Along with the Department of Social Services, a supplemental state grant was identified to support the initiative. Along with the house built at the Timothy Hill Ranch, Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson earmarked beds at their shelter, as well.
The goal of the two facilities will be to educate formerly incarcerated youth and foster their continued self-improvement efforts.
DeMarco created the Youth Tier program to help incarcerated youth find a new path -- and overcome challenges including family dysfunction, homelessness, sustance abuse, educational deficits, lack of employment and mental health issues so that they might navigate successful re-entry into society.
Male youth are screened for eligibility into the program and asked to sign a code of conduct. Those who are selected into the program are housed on a separate tier within the correctional facility; the tier has room for 10 inmates.
Young people who are first arrested and housed at the jail, DeMarco said, are coming from sometimes grim backgrounds. Some are members of gangs, including the Bloods and the Crips.
"Drugs are a huge issue," he said.
But during the past year, the program has helped identify tools to help each young person connect with appropriate services. All participants are mandated to attend high school while in jail, and take part in programs including mentoring, substance abuse and mental health treatment, anger management, life skills, violence and gang prevention, mediation and a writing workshop. Case managers work with youth to help develop a transition plan.
In addition, a youth reentry task force was created to coordinate services and assist in transitional planning. Members come from all walks of the community, including the Family Service League, the Timothy Hill Children's Ranch, the SUNY Stony Brook School of Social Welfare, and Eastern Suffolk BOCES, to name a few.
So far, DeMarco said, results from the program have been "impressive," with recidivism dropping "significantly." Of the 51 inmates placed in the program since Sept. 2011, only five returned to custody. Of the 490 youth inmates who did not participate in the program, 101 returned to custody in less than a year.
The program, DeMarco said, has resulted in human stories of triumph over tragedy -- of a young man charged with armed robbery who turned his life around, got a job, and came back to the facility to mentor other young men. Another former inmate is preparing to join the military.
"This program makes you feel like you're doing something worthwhile," DeMarco said. "You're cahnging people' s lives."