Homeless and hopeless: It could have been you. What you never knew about homeless youth.
The Regions Foundation is joining the fight to eradicate youth homelessness. And a new initiative in Regions Bank’s headquarters city can serve as a model for communities nationwide that are tackling similar challenges.
Consider the Way Station. It’s a space that’s being built from the ground up to provide unconditional love while removing barriers to success. Groundbreaking took place in Birmingham, Alabama, in late 2021, and once its doors are open, homeless youth will have a level of support and advocacy like never before.
The Regions Foundation, a nonprofit organization funded primarily by Regions Bank, awarded two grants totaling $125,000 to the Way Station to support the organization’s capital campaign.
Caroline Bundy reflected on what the Way Station will mean to both homeless and at-risk youth. She shared sentiments that prove perceptions can be harsh, but often not reality.
“I asked a group of people, what is your impression of a homeless young person and why they’ve become homeless. Someone answered, ‘My first impression would be that they didn’t want to follow their parents’ rules, and they ran away from home being a disrespectful child.’ That couldn’t be any further from the truth,” said Bundy. “So many people assume homeless youth are bad people and they don’t want to follow their parents’ rules. These youth we encounter believe that whatever is happening in their home is worse than life on the street. I want people to know the way these youth look doesn’t define who they are. Most of them are severely wounded, but they have the purest hearts.”
Bundy is the director of development at AIDS Alabama and the Way Station project coordinator. AIDS Alabama is building the Way Station as a safe place for homeless, runaway, and at-risk young adults ages 18 to 24, and it’s unlike your typical shelter. The Way Station will be an emergency overnight center and a transitional living program for people who may stay up to two years. They will receive supportive services to complete their education through a traditional school or GED program, learn financial literacy, gain job skills, and get the help they need to become sustainable adults, all in one place.
“We like to say if we can wipe out youth homelessness, we eradicate the next generation of homeless adults,” Bundy said. “Nobody is born in this world wanting and yearning to be homeless.”
Research conducted by Bundy and her team shows homeless youth are not comfortable in adult shelters. They fear emotional and physical abuse and theft of what little property they have by the adults housed in those shelters. With the help of the Regions Foundation and Regions Bank, the Way Station is working to change that.
“The donations from the Regions Foundation will go to our capital campaign,” Bundy shared. “It will aid in creating a space we have been working on for four years. It is a space where youth can turn to when they run away from a toxic home environment and feel life would be better on the streets. Whether it’s being shunned for sexual orientation; neglect; sexual, physical or emotional abuse; aging out of foster care; or a child who has experienced a traumatic situation in foster care – we have a variation of crises that cause youth to become homeless. We will welcome them with open arms, love and a safe space to live.”
Whatever help they will need, the design of the Way Station is to give them the confidence and skills to live on their own and become sustainable, healthy, and contributing members of society.
Caroline Bundy, Way Station project coordinator
The Regions Bank’s support extends beyond donations. Supporting strategic financial services played a role as well.
In October 2021, AIDS Alabama was notified by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta that its $400,000 application to the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP) was approved. Regions Bank sponsored the application; approval means direct subsidy funding will flow from the program to The Way Station.
“When I learned of this project and its provision of housing for homeless youth, I felt certain that this would be an award-winning AHP project, and I was thrilled with the announcement,” said Paul Carruthers, senior vice president and community development manager for Regions Bank. “The AHP funds will augment the community resources that AIDS Alabama has raised from their capital campaign, which allows AIDS Alabama to focus their time and resources on operating the facility and providing services that are instrumental in serving this vulnerable population.”
While being housed at the Way Station, youth will be required to meet with their social worker a minimum of once a week; they are also expected to find gainful employment or be enrolled in an educational setting.
“Whatever help they will need, the design of the Way Station is to give them the confidence and skills to live on their own and become sustainable, healthy, and contributing members of society,” Bundy said.
A staff of clinical social workers will be available to administer trauma-informed care, along with case managers and support specialists, some of whom have shared the same experiences as the youth they will serve.
“Trauma-informed care is a type of counseling for those who have suffered from some form of trauma, that aids in developing coping skills without re-traumatizing during counseling,” said Bundy. “We will also teach them how to obtain stable housing and maintain it. We will partner with Regions Bank for financial empowerment classes to aid in that process.”
The Way Station staff hopes to spread the word about the organization through street outreach. They plan to go out to the places where they know youth congregate, bring them in, and provide them with service.
“Some may not need the assistance of transitional housing, rather a stepping stone to save money and assistance obtaining independent living,” Bundy explained. “We want to remove the barriers that stand in the way of their sustainable growth.”
Some may only spend one night. Some might even return to homelessness, she said. But they will soon know there’s a safe place to turn – an advocate ready to help in new ways.
It’s right there in the name – the Way Station. A beacon for Birmingham youth, showing a different way than life on the streets.
About Regions Foundation
Regions Foundation supports community investments that positively impact the communities served by Regions Bank. The Foundation engages in a grantmaking program focused on priorities including economic and community development; education and workforce readiness; and financial wellness. The Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation funded primarily through contributions from Regions Bank.
About Regions Financial Corporation
Regions Financial Corporation (NYSE:RF), with $153 billion in assets, is a member of the S&P 500 Index and is one of the nation’s largest full-service providers of consumer and commercial banking, wealth management, and mortgage products and services. Regions serves customers across the South, Midwest and Texas, and through its subsidiary, Regions Bank, operates more than 1,300 banking offices and approximately 2,000 ATMs. Regions Bank is an Equal Housing Lender and Member FDIC. Additional information about Regions and its full line of products and services can be found at www.regions.com.