Looking Glass staff in Cottage Grove are crossing their fingers and toes these days, hopeful that a financial green light will win them access to a new office building that will more than double the size of their current location.
The Cottage Grove branch of the youth-assisting nonprofit has reached the 50 percent mark of its $400,000 fundraising goal and has applied to the Ford Foundation to matching the other half.
If met, the funds will go toward renovating a building just down Whiteaker Avenue from the current office, formerly the location of the Best Little Printhouse.
Should the Ford Foundation come back with good news, Looking Glass is looking to break ground by June and be ready to host youth by December.
The nonprofit, based out of Eugene, provides services for at-risk or homeless youth ages 11 through 21.
It’s rural program mainly handles case management such as building resumes, filling out job applications, scheduling needed appointments or applying for SNAP or OHP, said Johnny Green, the program supervisor of the Looking Glass Rural Program and Cottage Grove. Green self-identifies with “they/them/their” pronouns.
“We’re navigating these kinds of adulting situations that just have not been modeled for them or that they’re not familiar with,” they said.
Hot meals, hygiene items, clothing and canned food are available, too, for those who need them.
“Ultimately, as a drop-in center, our goal is to improve the quality of life for people that are experiencing housing instability and homelessness,” said Green.
Part of that improvement to quality of life also includes providing a safe place for youth to spend time. So, on top of its case management, Looking Glass seeks to provide a comfortable hang-out space.
“Not everyone that has housing instability is experiencing homelessness. Sometimes housing instability means living with parents that are suffering from mental illness, or addiction, or any of these other factors,” explained Green. “They could be abusive towards their kids, or they could be in an abusive relationship that the kids are witnessing. So sometimes it’s safer to just have reprieve from that and to be able to come and hang out.”
For those experiencing homelessness, the nonprofit also conducts “front-door assessments”, which determine an individual or family’s needs. Those who are living in an emergency shelter, outdoors, in a car, or other homeless situation are considered “literally homeless” by the county. Eligible homeless households will be placed on the Central Wait List for housing and eventually the information collected will help match the clients to the right housing program.
The wait list is for permanent supportive housing which prioritizes youths who have high levels of vulnerability such as experiences of domestic violence, heavy drug use or disabilities. Availability in the program is limited.
Looking Glass also provides Rapid Rehousing, which is a countywide rental assistance and case management program one can enter for up to two years.
“The idea is that we hope to be able to provide enough resources so that if you’re experiencing homelessness at 16 or 17 years old, that it’s not going to inform the rest of your life,” Green said. “Hopefully, if we can intervene early, you’re not going to be homeless 10 or 20 years from now and we can get you stabilized, teach you how to get a job and hold a job and you pay your taxes and can keep your lights on.”
The nonprofit’s Transitional Living Program out of Eugene is another option. There are currently a handful of units in the university district for youth in need where they can build skills for independence.
“And then once you’re exited from that program, the rent that you’ve paid to the program gets basically given back to you as a deposit for your next house. So again, it’s building those skills, learning how to pay rent, learning how to budget and those types of things,” said Green. “The goal is to get people into self-sustaining stable housing.”
Youth homelessness has been a parallel issue to Cottage Grove’s current debate about how to move forward to address homelessness in general, however it is generally understood that tackling the issue for youth will require a separate set of tools and preventative services like those provided by Looking Glass can be a part of that.
“In my experience, it’s more about housing instability here than it is about homelessness,” Green.
With the prospect of moving into a space more that double the current office’s size, Looking Glass staff are excited to imagine the expansion and enhancement of services that will be on the table.
In its current space, having just six or so youth in the building can start to feel cramped. The conditions are also not ideal for the kind of privacy needed in case management.
“So moving into the new space will afford us the ability to have offices to be able to do case management like that,” said Green. “Or if someone has escalated and we just need a safe space to de-escalate and drink some juice, we don’t want to have that be something that everyone else in the building needs to witness.”
A recent $1,000 donation from the Rotary Club will be going toward a washer and dryer so youth will be able to freely clean their clothing and staff are hoping to get a shower on the premises, though plans are not concrete yet.
For those who need mental health services, a therapist from Eugene will have office space in which to work as well.
And it will be the little things, too, that can enhance the space.
A couch has already been donated for the common room where there will be a TV, a guitar and games.
“And we will have a fully-formed kitchen,” said Green a bit excitedly. “Right now, our kitchen space is very lackluster; we can’t use more than one appliance at a time without blowing the circuit. So being able to have a stovetop and a microwave at the same time is a luxury for us.”
For more information about Looking Glass, call 541-767-3823 or visit online at www.lookingglass.us.