As part of the city of Palmdale’s Strategic Plan, the Neighborhood Services Department works with various community partners to help the city’s young adult homelessness population. Each year a number of local young adults “age out” of foster care and many become homeless, potential victims of human trafficking or wind up on a path of criminal activity or drug addiction. The city joined forces with Antelope Valley Youth Build to transform a property into housing for up to 16 young adult residents.
In 2007 the city of Palmdale partnered with Antelope Valley Youth Build Charter High School to provide its student body with onsite work experience through real-world community projects. AV Youth Build provides an opportunity for young adults, 16 to 24 years old, to complete their high school education and receive training and certification in a variety of careers such as construction, health care and firefighting. This ongoing partnership has helped create Focus Neighborhood Houses and affordable housing units as part of the city’s commitment to revitalize its most economically challenged neighborhoods.
While working with AV Youth Build students, city staff learned about the impact of homelessness on local youth. Participating students explained that their biggest challenges included finding stable housing, education, work opportunities and career development. They shared the reality of having to move out of their homes on their 18th birthday, couch surfing and even sleeping in cars.
Although the city had formed a strong partnership with AV Youth Build to help young adults complete their high school education and develop a career path, staff wanted to expand the partnership to address the homeless population of uninhibited youth in the community. Palmdale faced some large challenges in finding the right property/building, funding the cost of rehabilitation of the property and keeping the program sustainable.
AV Youth Build and the city’s housing division in 2011 acquired an older abandoned senior care facility in the heart of a focus neighborhood. This neighborhood had already been adopted by AV Youth Build as a focus area for its service work and seemed like the right fit for the project. The city needed to develop a functional building that to house emancipated youth who were enrolled in AV Youth Build Charter High School or who were homeless but were on the path to completing or advancing their education.
The project construction began with a neighborhood community event where young adults were asked to participate and write on a large billboard located at the project site and complete a sentence that started with, “My Dream Is …” in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King. By the end of the day the billboard was filled with many dreams, which inspired the project name, “The Dream Center.”
The city was able to close escrow on the property just prior to the state’s elimination of redevelopment agencies, but only had $150,000 remaining for its rehabilitation. This was not enough to cover the entire cost of the project. AV Youth Build partnered with a local nonprofit entity that had originally helped sponsor the project and applied for and received Federal HOME funds to help finance the majority of the work and completion of the project.
The AV Youth Build students performed a larger portion of the demolition and rehabilitation, saving an estimated $250,000 in labor costs. Along with the student body, many other volunteers came out to work on the project, including other Youth Build chapters from outside the area. Local vendors such as Home Depot, Sun Power, and local contractors donated materials, labor and funding to the project. Residents from the community stepped forward and donated furniture, bedding and kitchen items to help furnish the complex.
Bike and Build is one notable group that participated on this project from demolition to final completion. These cyclists ride from Boston to Santa Barbara every summer and participate in the construction of affordable housing projects across the nation. As many as 30 college students riding into Palmdale spent two days working on the project. For each year the cyclists participated in the rehabilitation, AV Youth Build received the “Riders Choice” awards, which included a grant for as much as $10,000 that could be spent to help fund the completion.
The estimated total budget for project was $1.2 million. By working with AV Youth Build and the many community and national partners, this project was completed for less than $750,000. This project also assisted AV Youth Build in meeting specific requirements pertaining to their Department of Labor grant by creating jobs for its student body.
Completed in 2015, the Dream Center and can house up to 16 single young adults and three single moms. The single young adult housing portion of the project provides eight bedrooms with dormitory style accommodations with half bath amenities. Fully segregated bathrooms for the men and women along with a fully equipped laundry room, community family room/study area and kitchen area are available for the residents. The single mom area consists of three single bedrooms with full bathrooms; community living room, kitchen and fully equipped laundry area. A dorm mom area in between the single young adult and young adult moms exists with a single bedroom, living space and private bath.
Along with the housing component, the students constructed a detached 1,200 square foot community room and community garden. The community room serves as a meeting and center for neighborhood residents to participate in various activities and programs. Since its completion, the Dream Center community room has hosted press conferences for the city’s Season of Service kick off, cultural and art events hosted by the AV Youth Build student body and other focus neighborhood events. The residents that surround the Dream Center know it as a “third place” in their neighborhood where they can come and be better engaged with their community.
The Dream Center gained the attention of Youth Build National and currently serves as a model to other Youth Build chapters across the nation, providing an example of how local government can partner with an organization comprised mainly of young adults to create affordable housing and together help address a significant issue in our community that provides a life-changing solution for now and the future.