GREAT BARRINGTON -- With winter on the way, Railroad Street Youth Project (RSYP) and partners aim to tackle a youth homelessness issue felt in Southern Berkshire last year.
Yevin Roh, program director with RSYP, said as many as 10 homeless youths from their late teens to early 20s appeared at the group's drop-in center last winter seeking relief. More, including teenage mothers, chose not to utilize the center, RSYP volunteer William Barnes said.
Roh and RSYP hope to put resources in place in case this year brings comparable traffic.
First in their minds is a "Host Home Program," which Roh explained at a meeting at Berkshire South Regional Community Center on Thursday.
"The way we envision our program here in Great Barrington as of right now is to be short-term, which is for kids that are not in school -- three days, a few weeks," Roh said. "We're hoping to support and engage volunteers to open up their hearts and their homes, especially during these winter months. The winter is coming fast. It's New England. It's going to be unforgiving."
Roh said people willing to volunteer their homes would be expected to provide support, hot meals, a place to shower and "social interaction and to be treated as a valuable member of that household."
Before taking anyone in, potential hosts would meet the youth for an interview and together sign an "I Promise" contract setting up the rules of the household.
"This isn't [the Department of Children and Families] and it's not foster care," Barnes said. "What we're basically looking for is enough so we feel comfortable that [the home] is appropriate."
Thursday's meeting brought together concerned residents, members of Berkshire Community Coalition, Pioneer Valley's Parent-Professional Advocacy League and local interfaith committees -- and possibly saw the recruitment of the first host home volunteer.
Robin DelGrande, of West Stockbridge, threw her name into the mix as a potential host.
"I like to think my door is always open," DelGrande said. "I have two extra bedrooms; I have two bathrooms with showers in them. My husband and I own a catering business and we're really good cooks, so we always have a lot of good food around."
Roh said other, smaller measures are in the works as well. RSYP wants to begin a Friday soup night and organize care packages for people who visit its drop-in center, located at 60 Bridge St. They anticipate seeking donors and fundraisers to help out with these activities.
Thursday's meeting was intended as a public discussion. The Committee on Youth Homelessness in the South Berkshires is an official group working on this issue alongside RSYP.