A local youth services center is expanding to provide an additional service never offered in the Madison area before: a place to stay.

Briarpatch Youth Services is holding their ribbon cutting service Wednesday, Sept. 30th at their new facility on Rimrock Road that will offer a place for homeless youth to stay, Cedric Johnson, Development and Communications director, said.

“This will let us do what we already do, but do it better,” Johnson said. “It is a huge step in the right direction for supporting these youth.”

Homeless youth are especially vulnerable, and can easily fall victim to a large number of dangers on the streets, including exploitation, substance abuse and illness, Johnson said.

One-third of youth on the streets will be approached for sex in exchange for money, housing or food within 48 hours of leaving their homes, Casey Behrend, executive director of Briarpatch, said.

Additionally, homeless youth may face a greater chance of becoming homeless as adults.

“Youth are more vulnerable — they typically are less street smart, and many of them don’t have the skills to take care of themselves,” Behrend said.

The new location will have eight beds, with a stay maximum of 28 days, Johnson said. The targeted age range will be 13 to 17- year-olds. Briarpatch will continue to provide services to 11 and 12-year-old youth, but they will not be eligible to stay at the facility, Behrend said.

Youth staying at the shelter will get individual case management files, which will allow trained staff to help the youth as much as possible during their stay. The youth will be expected to attend a group session every day, Johnson said.

Combining available services and a living space under the same roof is something that was missing within Briarpatch in the past, Johnson said. Adding shelter space will increase the likelihood that youth receive the help that they need.

When a place to stay was not available to homeless youth, many times they would only visit Briarpatch once and would fail to show up for their follow-up appointments. Allowing youth to stay in the facility will give staff more time to build relationships, Behrend said.

The new service will be funded through Briarpatch’s campaign, “Give Homeless Youth a Chance.” The campaign’s goal is to raise $3.1 million, with $1.2 million raised thus far. The money has come through federal grants, corporations and individuals, Johnson said.

Removing barriers to services is key in helping homeless and at-risk youth, Johnson said. The shelter will be open 24/7, 365 days per year, with two counselors on duty at all times. Additionally, a 24-hour crisis hotline will be available.

This is the first youth shelter in the Madison area, and one of only four total in Wisconsin, Johnson said. Creating this shelter is a big step for Briarpatch and the Madison community, Behrend said.

“Homeless youth are a hidden population that needs our support,” Behrend said. “They aren’t going to get in our faces, but they need our services nonetheless.”