Aug 29, 2018
Rivera House Celebrates One-Year Anniversary
Over a year ago, the idea of creating a new and unique residential and re-entry program for LGBTQ youth began to take root. With the help of our partners from the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) and the countless hours staff dedicated to purchasing and updating a residence, the Rivera House was born. Today, the Rivera House is fully staffed and houses up to nine residents who are transitioning from the custody of OYA to independence. The goal of the program is to prepare youth leaving incarceration to become law-abiding, successful members of the community while addressing the special needs of LGBTQ youth. We spoke to the Rivera House Program Director, Deven Edgerton to share his thoughts about the program on this one-year anniversary.
What have been some of the challenges in starting a new program?
As with any new program, there have been many growing pains in launching and running Rivera House. When we started the program, we envisioned supporting the youth for up to six months, expecting they would be ready to re-enter the community. That has not been the case. The average stay for a youth is 10-12 months. When you look at our other residential programs, such as Buckman, where youth are also coming directly from OYA, they require a longer stay to acclimate to their new lives. This transition timeline applies to Rivera youth too. Most of the youth who come to Rivera House are a high needs population and require a significant amount of mental health care before they can successfully begin a new life, which requires time. Statistically, LGBTQ youth have a higher rate of suicidal ideation. These youth have often have been rejected by their families and/or local communities. They need a unique support system to help them feel comfortable with themselves and gain the skills necessary to enter the work force and community. We have engaged the services of outside therapists to help with special needs and are working with OYA to make it possible for them to work on-site.
What type of support does the Rivera House staff offer youth?
The areas of support we offer Rivera youth are relevant to all youth, but often there are additional difficulties and complexities for LGBTQ youth that require special guidance. For example, helping youth navigate through the employment process has challenges unique to LGBTQ youth. Many of the youth we work with identify as transgender and need assistance in finding businesses that will be affirming of their identity. We coach them with phone interviews, help them prepare resumes and identify LGBTQ-friendly businesses.
We also help youth understand their housing rights as well as how to access their social network to find appropriate housing. We teach them how to access medical services relevant to their specific needs. We help them develop safety skills, learn how to protect themselves from harmful people or situations and how to cope with and confront homophobia and transphobia.
How has Rivera House been accepted by the neighbors?
The neighbors have been great. The Rivera House previously was an adult living facility and there is one right across the street so the neighbors are comfortable with having a group residence on the block. Sometimes some of them come over and recruit our youth to help with a small project. We have integrated into the community well.
What has been the most satisfying aspect of your job?
When youth feel comfortable being themselves, when they are safe and ready to move on, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction. We have two youth who have graduated from the program; one moved back home with family. The other has a job working in construction. We have another youth in the process of moving out and three others who will move out in the next few months.
Are there any volunteer opportunities?
Every Tuesday we have a support group. Volunteers from the community come with work with our clients on career development, healthy sexuality, herbal medicine and making video games. We are always looking for volunteers who have a specific skill that they want to share in these Tuesday support groups. We also can use donations of art supplies, games and patio furniture.