Unfathomable as it may be in our high-income country, houselessness is still a growing issue in the United States. More than 550,000 Americans do not know where they will sleep tonight as of 2021. In 2020, it was estimated that more than 34,000 people without houses were children through young adults. Approximately 90% of those 34,000 people are between the ages of 18 and 24, and 50% of houseless youth are unsheltered — sleeping in a car, outside or in other places not intended for habitation.
In 1972, Youth Services for Oklahoma County was established, offering counseling services to youth in transition from the criminal justice system. Over time, needs changed, and in 2018, Youth Services of Oklahoma County rebranded and became Pivot. “Our vision is that no youth navigate alone, and we truly live to be a force for good, turning young lives around and giving them hope for a future,” said CEO and executive director Jennifer Goodrich.
Part of that vision was to provide housing for youth ages 16 through 25 who are in transition from the criminal justice system or aging out of foster care. “Pivot has worked with youth experiencing homelessness since the inception of our Supporting Kids in Independent Living program in 1997,” Goodrich said. “It started with community volunteers and Pivot recognizing that there is youth living independently with no parental or family support.”
Pivot’s Tiny Homes project provides affordable housing — while small, ranging from 280 to 320 square feet, they represent stability. “The rent structure caps out at $150,” Goodrich said. “We also provide them access to our pantries for basic needs or other meal options. The homes come fully furnished. There is an onboarding process, an orientation, and they sign a lease. We want them to understand what they agree to, and it is a real-world experience they need to know.”
Built in a microscaled community, each home is vibrantly colored and uniquely designed. Residents can choose from several floor plans. The space is compact but efficient, encompassing a living area, entertainment and sleeping quarters, a kitchenette, a bathroom and storage. Each home is stylish, modern and functional. A 12.5-acre campus supports 20 homes with plenty of room to grow.
Funding for the program is through a mix of private and public sources. Pivot was also incorporated in the original Metropolitan Area Projects Plan, or MAPS, as part of the homelessness initiative. “I always say this is a community built by a community, whether it was a designer decorating the home, different trades or trade schools providing services, donated tile, discounted paint and so much more,” Goodrich said.
Pivot offers other services in addition to housing, too. Through partnerships with organizations such as the United Way, Putnam City Schools and the Youth Homeless Alliance, residents are provided counseling, meals, tutoring, educational and emotional support systems and social activity. Pivot also tries to provide youth with a sense of accomplishment, pride, purpose and hope for the future. “We served over 2,000 youth last year on many different levels,” Goodrich said. “Pivot represents the desire to have real solutions to issues that face our community.”