Michele Gehr is the executive director of the non-profit Eddy House, which runs the YOU, a walk-in resource center for homeless and at-risk youth in downtown Reno. A Bay Area native, Michele gained experience working in this field in the South Bronx, before returning to northern Nevada, where she has lived on and off for over 25 years.
In a recent interview with Our Town Reno, Michele discussed the YOU’s upcoming one-year anniversary, its progress and some of her ideas for the future. Currently, the YOU has five full-time employees, five interns and also contracts local organizations for onsite help. Services and programs offered at the YOU include health screenings, HIV testing, therapy, group meetings, yoga and mindfulness classes, women’s empowerment, and job skills training. Up to 40 youths are sometimes simultaneously inside the quaint 6th street compound.
Q: What is the YOU exactly?
A: We are a homeless drop-in resource center. We are open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to five p.m. Kids can come in and receive care, comfort and services. They can come in and get a shower. They can get a snack. They can get clothing. They can use a laptop computer to check social media or apply for a job. We have a crisis manager so if they have a particular crisis that can be dealt with immediately. We’re also a resource center. I contract community partners to come in and provide the services they do really well.
Q: Who are you helping?
A: We serve ages 12 to 21. We will go up to 24. The situations are they are usually homeless or at risk of being homeless meaning they maybe have a place to stay but it’s not secure and maybe it’s not for more than a short period of time. We have aged-out foster youth. A lot of our kids couch surf with friends or relatives. They go to weeklies and maybe they are eight or 10 or 12 to a room. They live in abandoned buildings or the street.
A Need for More Donations
Q: Besides giving money, and volunteering, how else can people in the community help?
A: We can always use more donated items. We need items like cup of noodles, juice, toothpaste, toothbrushes, brushes, combs, shampoo, conditioner, underwear …. we always need underwear, size medium, that seems to fit everybody, and socks. We don’t have these items. We do rely on donations for all of it.
The Need for a Housing Program
Q: What else would you like to provide going forward?
A: I provide programming which teaches basic skills, living skills, social and emotional skills and everything has a trauma component because our kids are experiencing ongoing trauma and have experienced trauma before. But there is a gap in services. I can fill these kids up with this information but without a safe place to stay it’s like a leaky boat. My next phase, if I had the funds and the community support, would be a residential component. I recognize not every person who is homeless is ready for a structured residential program. But I feel like a leveled residential program (with individually tailored help) that has a wraparound holistic approach where they receive services designed to teach self-efficacy is the way for our population to become not homeless with that kind of support and each other, and a great staff, 24/7 crisis managers to handle anything that might come. I think we can actually eliminate youth homelessness in Reno.
The Importance of the Housing Component
Q: Why is it so important to provide housing as well as your existing services?
A: If you have a young person who is homeless, has been kicked out or aged out of foster care or who has maybe lost their place to stay, or lost their family support, we would have a place where they can go, get on their feet and learn skills. I just don’t think this is an impossible thing. I don’t think the problem is so out of hand that we can’t fix it. I think we are in a prime position to create a northern Nevada model, and people can use it for other cities of similar size.
Q: Finally, what will be happening on May 6th?
A: It will be the Eddy House first anniversary open house party. It came out of a discussion between the youth, some of the interns and (Eddy House founder) Lynette Eddy. We want a party to celebrate the first year. It will be from three to six p.m. where members of the community, anyone interested in learning more, some of our donors, everyone is invited to come through and take a tour, meet some of the youths and talk to the staff. Just come and see what we’re doing and how it’s growing. I really want it to be a community event. We’re having donated food and drinks. We’re also going to get a DJ.