More people are living on the streets of Oklahoma City than at any point in recent history, due largely to a shortage of shelter beds. One facility has expanded, though, to serve a growing number of homeless youth.
Light-hearted game nights at the Sisu shelter provide a few moments to forget hardship.
Justice Beard, 20, has lived at Sisu for four months, after a bad break-up left the Certified Nursing Assistant without a home or any of his personal documents.
“It was a little hard not knowing where to go, but I had a friend,” Beard recalled. “He knew about this place.”
Sisu, a word meaning resilience, is now celebrating one year of seven-day service, providing 16 beds, food and resources to 15 through 22-year-olds.
“About 40% of our youth have been in DHS custody or aged out of foster care,” explained Sisu Assistant Director Jamie Caves. “We also have a large LGBTQ population with family rejection being the number one reason for their homelessness.”
While this group hides themselves well among society, most of the time, there is a waiting list.
“If we could have 40 beds, we would be full every night with 40 beds,” Caves said.
Last year the shelter served more than 200 unique individuals, helping many of them learn skills to break the cycle of abuse and crime they have experienced.
Executive Director Lindsay Cates said, “We are helping youth get jobs, do these mock interviews, but now we want to really start tracking that so we can see, where are the gaps? Where are the needs?”
Justice said his unique situation has made him a sort of big brother at Sisu.
“I’ve got to watch what I do,” Justice said. “Everybody tries to see how I do it, and they want to do it, too, so I just try to lead them to the right way.”
The Sisu team is helping Justice recover his identity and move forward in his career, but after he moves out, he will come back and join the team of more than 100 volunteers that make Sisu’s services possible.
Justice added, “If you’ve been abused or lose your documents or you can’t work, I think it’s a good place to come to start over, to build.”
To learn more about the Sisu youth shelter, click here.