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JoAnna Wynn, front, Peter Jamtgaard, left, and Dave Paielli sit in the new drop-in center for homeless teens at Walkin\' In My Shoes. The center, 3311 50th St., is set to open Friday. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY BILL SIEL )

Published November 24, 2009 | 11:14 p.m.
Updated November 25, 2009 | 9:20 a.m.

Drop-in center to welcome homeless teens

BY TERRY FLORES
tflores@kenoshanews.com

A year ago, JoAnna Wynn opened a new location for Walkin’ In My Shoes to help the homeless with basic items, clothing, toiletries and referrals to employment, training and housing programs.

A year later, the once-cold basement with hard concrete floors at the center, 2211 50th St., has been transformed into a comfortable teen drop-in site that will open Friday. The site will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, with Saturday hours possible.

The space includes sofas, computers with Internet access, a new washer and dryer and a mini-library lounge.

More than two dozen volunteers, mostly members of First Assembly of God Church, helped transform the space — and bring about the realization of Wynn’s dream.

“I’m hoping that when we open the doors on Friday, they feel welcome. We want to welcome them to a place where they don’t have to fear,” she said.

Taking shape

The homeless youth drop-in center began to take shape in July as members of First Assembly, including the Rev. Dan Remus and Mark Brotz, looked to assist community causes.

Wynn said she had encountered 50 homeless teens and young adults in Kenosha last year, mostly high school graduates with no place to go while trying to attend college.

Peter Jamtgaard, a church member and professional enginner, said Wynn’s work coincided with First Assembly’s mission to help those locally in need.

“I think they thought that what Jo was doing was a great thing, and they brought her a budget, and we went with it,” he said.

Dave Paelli, who helped organize the project, added: “This is all about Jo’s place and what she does to help people.”

While homeless teens will now have somewhere to stay during the day, the site isn’t a “hangout place,” according to Wynn, who timed the opening of the center with November’s National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.

Teen assessments

The needs of each teen who comes through the door will be assessed, including education level, health and medical conditions and job skills. Some may qualify to takes classes through Kenosha Unified’s eSchool.

“We will do a confidential assessment in my office,” Wynn said. “They would have to sign in and sign out. We’d also be doing drug tests and (criminal) background checks on everyone.”

Once the assessments are complete, the teens can use the center when school is not in session or not involved with work or job training. The center will be supervised by volunteers.

“The teens can come here, do their homework, do their laundry, get new underwear and clean clothes instead of just hanging out in a library,” she said.

Teens would be provided nutritious breakfasts and lunches, such as sandwiches and snacks.

Raising awareness

Wynn said she hopes to bring awareness to the number of homeless teens and young adults in Kenosha County.

In the Kenosha Unified School District, 291 students are considered homeless, according to district officials.

In addition, a local transitional housing program reported this month that 153 youths and young adults seeking admission had been turned away and 110 are still on a waiting list.

Wynn said there’s little assistance for homeless teens at other local shelters.

“The need is great. And that if you see a need, help them,” she said.

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Last Modified: 12/06/2011