Harris County commissioners approve $35 million campus for youth transitioning out of foster care system

Harris County commissioners approve $35 million campus for youth transitioning out of foster care system

From left, Harris County Resources for Children and Adults Executive Director Joel Levine, Sarah Pinyan, County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis provide details about the county’s upcoming HAY Center campus, which will provide housing and wraparound services to youth aging out of the state’s foster care system. (Wesley Gardner/Community Impact Newspaper)

Harris County commissioners at a Dec. 14 meeting unanimously approved the construction of a roughly $35 million Houston Alumni and Youth Center campus that will include a 41,000-square-foot, 50-unit residential facility for youth transitioning out of the state’s foster care system.

The approximately 3.3-acre campus, which will be located at 3131 Gulf Freeway near downtown Houston, will also include a 17,000-square-foot commercial facility that will house the HAY—Houston Alumni & Youth—Center, a program operated through the Harris County Resources for Children and Adults Department that provides resources and services for youth and young adults exiting the state foster care system.

Every year, the HAY Center provides services to more than 1,300 current foster youth and youth formerly in foster care ages 14 to 25.

According to County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the aim of the project is to help provide more stability for the youth members transitioning from foster care to independent living.

“This [project] will help create a home for young people during this tough transition,” Hidalgo said, noting roughly 200 young adults age out of the foster care system in Harris County each year. “I know this will go a long way in making sure our young people have a fair shot in pursuing the life they wish to live.”

Hidalgo noted the new campus will feature access to nearby hike-and-bike trails as well as several Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County—or METRO—stops to provide residents without vehicles easy access to and from the site.

Joel Levine, executive director of the county’s Resources for Children and Adults Department, said the county has spent several years pursuing the project.

For many years, this campus has been a dream and a vision for the HAY Center staff, for the foster youth and our supporters,” Levine said. “We firmly believe that no youth should have to experience homelessness or have to make a choice to live in unsafe conditions simply because they are aging out of foster care.”

Levine noted the HAY Center offers a number of wraparound services for youth transitioning out of the foster care system, including life skills coaching, employment, education, housing assistance, mentoring and coaching, youth engagement activities, and well-being programs.

Sarah Pinyan, who aged out of the state’s foster care system several years ago, lauded the wraparound services she received through the HAY Center. Pinyan was among a cohort of individuals who spent time in the state’s foster care that assisted the county in planning the new campus.

“I have participated in every program at the HAY Center, between our life skills classes, our mentoring and even the bridge housing program,” Pinyan said. “Knowing that the HAY Center has given me housing and the freedom to pursue my own career, my own dreams—especially at a young age—was productive.”

County officials said construction of the new campus is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2022 and is slated to wrap up by the third quarter of 2023.

Officials noted the project is primarily funded through Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery grants received by the county and the city of Houston.

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