Westhaven Offers A Safe Place for Teen Runaways

By Beth Prebel

Often overlooked and forgotten in our community are teens in crisis. Whether it’s due to abuse, neglect, or other harmful situations at home, there are numerous youth at risk, many of whom are homeless. One place where these youth can find a safe environment is at Westhaven.

            Westhaven offers youth between 13 to 17 years of age shelter. It is one of only two emergency shelters in the area offering a 24-hour shelter and crisis hotline.

            Westhaven is administered by the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry and was founded in 1992. The mission of Westhaven, according to its director Debra Teitelbaum, is as follows. To serve youth who are oppressed, forgotten and hurting; to promote peace and well being within families; and to work toward right relationships among youth, families and communities.

            In addition to walk-ins, youth at Westhaven also come from referrals from county or state agencies. A teen in crisis finds safe shelter at Westhaven, but also much more. Westhaven can also provide counseling and family advocacy.

            Westhaven can shelter a youth for up to 14 days, and can house twelve teens. Westhaven also serves as a 3-day respite for “unruly” youths. Although a teen’s stay at Westhaven is voluntary, he or she will maintain a daily routine. This includes attending school, participating in structured recreational activities, and assisting with chores.

            Westhaven also offers a follow-up program. Issues such as chemical dependency or abuse take time to overcome. The After-Care Program gives teens and their family continued support and continues to link them to positive services. However, After-Care must be agreed upon by the teen.

            Westhaven is staffed with approximately 15 full-time community support providers and house managers. Volunteers play an important role also, often serving as house manager during meetings.

            Chemical dependency, abuse, neglect and behavior problems from homelessness are all issues facing teens in crisis. While there is no quick cure, Westhaven is a positive step that offers hope to this often overlooked part of our community.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 24