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Niagara County youth homelessness effort gains $1.22M HUD grant

A collaboration to address and eliminate teen and young adult homelessness in Niagara County is receiving a federal grant to move forward with its efforts.

Congressman Brian Higgins visited Pinnacle Community Services in Niagara Falls to announce a $1.22 million grant from Housing and Urban Development has been awarded to the region.

"These organizations put together a fact-based application, which is highly, highly competitive," he said. "Congress approves an annual budget of $4.7 trillion, and money is distributed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But there are obviously a lot more applications than there are resources to address those applications. So I can't emphasize enough the great collaborative work here."

Pinnacle Community Services will receive $370,182 to support a Family Engagement Team, which will offer mediation and wrap-around case management for affected youth and their families.

"It's youth centered but family engagement, trying to help those youth with trauma-informed care principles and supports to develop meaningful and trusting relationships through the mentorship of our program," said Laura Pennington Gawel, president and chief executive officer of Pinnacle. "We're going to be using youth coaches, peer mentors and case management to focus on the goals setting and skill building of those youth."

Community Missions of Niagara Frontier, Inc. will receive $850,468 to administer joint transitional and rapid rehousing services. Assets for this program include a building on East Falls Street, already used by Community Missions for several years, as a youth resource hub.

"Not only will individuals be able to live there for a brief period of time, but it will also be a landing place for the 18- to 24-year-old population who are looking for services," said Community Missions president and CEO Robyn Krueger. "They may need a place to take a shower. They may need just somebody to talk to. And this, we hope, will be a hub for them in the City of Niagara Falls and give them a safe place to be, as they continue to move through their transition to independence and adulthood."

Krueger said while most talk has been about "COVID, COVID, COVID," the new word is "collaboration, collaboration, collaboration." Both agencies acknowledged a desire to work together to address the issue of youth homelessness in Niagara County. Working with the Homeless Alliance of Western New York, they formed their strategy.

"We really needed to work together over a two- or three-year time period, to determine what was the need for youth in our community, and figure out the best ways to do that," Gawel said. "HAWNY brought together a group of youth, a youth task force, that had young people who had been homeless, to determine what it is that would be the best supports for those youth."

The Youth Action Board's Coordinated Community Plan for Ending Youth Homelessness in Erie and Niagara Counties estimates 750 unaccompanied and parenting youth experience homelessness each year, while an estimated 1,600 others are at risk. 

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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