ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A youth shelter designed to offer hope and help to young people living on the streets of St. Johns County opened its doors Monday in St. Augustine, celebrated with a ribbon cutting.
The aptly named Port in the Storm Youth Shelter is run by St. Francis House, an emergency shelter for families in St. Johns County.
The shelter, which still needs some work, is open daily and staffed with professional case managers whose aim is to help homeless youth.
"A lot of these kids feel rejected. They've been rejected most of their lives,” said Bill Rieger, who's on the shelter's board of directors.
Rieger knows that feeling himself. He said he ran away from home at the age of 16, feeling he had no support from his family.
"I felt like I couldn't connect with anyone. I felt hopeless,” Rieger said. “I had a lot of problems with chemical dependency. I had problems with depression."
Rieger said he ended up in a psychiatric hospital and found support and hope in a 12-step program. Now, he's giving back to his community through his involvement with Port in the Storm, a shelter that studies show was sorely needed in St. Johns County.
A 2016 study from a street outreach program found that there were nearly 200 such homeless young people attending school in St. Johns County and that 19 percent of all homeless people in the county were under the age of 18.
The study also identified three youth homeless camps in the county.
After some renovations, Port in the Storm plans to open 16 beds for emergency overnight stays.
The shelter already offers programs like stress management, art and music therapy and GED prep, along with access to food, clean clothes and a safe environment -- all paid for with donations.
To learn more about St. Francis House and Port in the Storm Youth Center, go to http://www.stfrancisshelter.org/.
To make a donation to help with renovations at Port in the Storm, click here.