During the years Tyler Schueffner worked directly on the streets with homeless and runaway teens, he said he often became frustrated because he couldn’t offer them one of the things they needed most: a safe place to sleep.
Once, out of desperation, he bought a homeless teen a city bus ticket, just so the young person could sleep a bit on a bus seat — a warm, secure, well-lit place.
“It was not a good option, but it was the only option,” said Schueffner, street outreach coordinator for Briarpatch Youth Services, a Madison social service agency serving troubled teens and their families.
Now there’s a better option. On Thursday, Briarpatch will open Dane County’s first shelter for homeless and runaway teens. The eight-bed facility on Madison’s South Side will provide a home for teens ages 13 to 17 for up to 28 days at a time.
“This is something our staff has dreamed about for 20 years,” said Casey Behrend, the organization’s executive director. “At the same time, it’s unfortunate that the service is needed.”
Homeless teens without adult family members are not eligible for other homeless shelters in Madison, Behrend said. He predicts the average stay will be about 10 days.
A teen may need just one night of shelter after a fight with his or her parents, Behrend said. In a case like that, Briarpatch tries to facilitate a counseling session with all involved.
Other teens will need the maximum number of shelter days and access to all of Briarpatch’s programs and case management services, Behrend said. They may have fled abusive conditions, or they may have been kicked out by their parents.
About 20 to 40 percent of runaway and homeless teens identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning, Behrend said, and this can sometimes lead to conflict at home.
The shelter is housed within Briarpatch’s headquarters at 2720 Rimrock Road, which the organization moved into last year. The number of teens without a safe or stable place to sleep in Dane County is conservatively estimated at 300 per night, Behrend said.
“Some are couch-hopping among friends, some are staying with strangers in less-than-ideal situations, some are camping out, and some, honestly and sadly, are staying on the streets,” he said.
In the past, Briarpatch has tried to have short-term foster homes available, but it has become difficult to find willing volunteers, Behrend said. The organization currently has just one licensed home and would like to find more for overflow nights at the shelter.
Although the maximum stay at any one time is 28 days, teens won’t be turned away if they return for repeated help and shelter, Behrend said.
The shelter will be staffed 24 hours with at least two staff members on duty at all times, Behrend said.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, Briarpatch will announce a $3.1 million public fundraising campaign, said Cedric Johnson, the organization’s director of development and communications. About $1.2 million of that already has been raised during the quiet phase of the campaign, he said.
The $3.1 million figure would allow Briarpatch to pay off its mortgage and build a reserve fund, Johnson said. For information on donating, go to youthsos.org.