For years, Janet Denise Kelly worked to ensure that homeless men and women living on the streets of Los Angeles were able to secure affordable housing. As gratifying as her work was, she was disheartened to realize that the average age of her clients was 40- years- old, and that most homeless institutions seemed to lack the capacity to serve youth.
Kelly had seen first-hand the devastating effects homelessness had on youth and knew that something had to be done or a generation would be lost. In July 2010, Kelly created Sanctuary of Hope (SOH) to fill that gap, providing comprehensive programming for youth and young adults as well as young parent families, between the ages of 16 - 25, who are foster care, homeless, and/or from low-income households in South Los Angeles and northern South Bay cities of Inglewood, Hawthorne, Gardena, Carson, and Lawndale.
“I saw everything from survival marriages to young people being taken advantage of,” said Kelly. “Survival marriage is when a young person will marry anyone to have comforts… and what they believe to be stability. Consequently, these young people, mainly young girls, would end up on the streets sex trafficked or in domestic violence situations. These youth were easily preyed upon because of their naivety and longing for a feeling of belonging.”
Rooted in a culturally-based service, trauma-informed service model, SOH ensures that the youth they serve, the staff they hire, and their board of directors reflex the diversity of their community.
“(I founded) Sanctuary of Hope to create an affirming culturally-based program for youth and young adults who were youth of color, primarily Black and Latinx,” said Kelly, “Black youth are disproportionately represented in the child welfare and homeless systems. Not much programming was specific to their social and emotional well-being. I wanted SOH to be that space of healing where they can be made whole.”
Through its signature programs Foster Hope, Rapid Rehousing, College I Can, Hope Connections, Hope Link, Family Reconnections and iParent, SOH provides basic needs, housing, life coaching, mentoring, college access and retention, emergency services, and financial assistance, with the sole purpose of tapping into young people's resiliency so that they have the ability to respond positively to life circumstances. Since it opened its doors, SOH has grown from serving 10 youth to serving over 500 youth and young adults annually.
As for the future, the organization plans on purchasing a building in South Los Angeles , developing affordable housing for its young adult population, and expanding its Black Narrative Series, community mobilization and engagement on issues specific to Black people. In mid-May, the organization plans to launch a podcast dedicated to youth and young adult issues. In June, SOH is taking 10 of our young adults on a trip to Africa for a cultural exchange.
Kelly believes that it is the deep connections they make with their youth, and the respect they show for their youths’ cultures, that makes all the difference in how they respond to the services they offer.
“Every time we do a focus group with youth and young adults, 'people' remains their number one need. They want 'people' for mentorship. They want "people" to be a sounding board. The want" people" to help with get through their barriers,” said Kelly. “They want "people" to celebrate their successes. They want "people" to be around during their times of despair. They want "people" to be non-judgmental. The just want "people" who are loving caring adults in their lives and will offer them life lessons.
And SOH does just that.
“We are proud to see a young person move from homelessness into stable housing, to see our young people graduate college or complete a certification program, to see a young person practice emotional and mental well-being by tapping into resources that will make his or her life fulfilling, to see a young person land a job. (Our) proudest moments are seeing (our) young people thrive, said Kelly.”