Since mid-2016, more than 130 Oregon children have spent at least one night as "unplaced foster youth" — meaning they had no foster family to go home to.
But a soon-to-be opened temporary housing program is looking to change that.
In the past, being unplaced could mean a night spent sleeping in an Oregon Department of Human Services office.
Now, it usually requires a hotel stay accompanied by a child protective services worker.
Nonprofits Youth Villages and New Avenues for Youth announced their collaboration with the Oregon Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority to create a better option: a 12-bed, 24-hour housing facility dubbed Robinswood opening mid-September in Clackamas County.
Housing unplaced youth has been a contentious and litigious issue over the years. In 2016, DHS agreed not to house foster children in hotels or its offices unless it is an emergency, following a settlement reached between the agency and lawyers representing foster children.
Earlier this year, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said DHS had permanently ceased the practice of housing children in offices.
Some officials have argued that many unplaced youths are older teens who prefer the hotel environment.
But a lawsuit filed on behalf of two minors and by CASA for Children alleges that more than half of the children subjected to hotel stays are under 12 years old. Additionally, the lawsuit states, there is no limitation on the length of the stays. A 9-year-old spent 81 days in hotel limbo; a 5-year-old spent 55 days.
The plaintiffs stated they filed the lawsuit to stop the practice of placing abused and neglected foster children in hotels.
"Unplacement creates serious emotional and psychological harm to foster children," the lawsuit alleges.
The class action lawsuit remains in litigation in U.S. District Court.
Once the program opens, any youth age 9 to 20 who would otherwise be placed in a hotel will instead come to Robinswood, Youth Villages spokeswoman Crissy Lintner said.
But, she added, the facility won't simply be a place to spend the night. New Avenues for Youth will operate the housing program and provide round-the-clock intensive care. Youth Villages will provide transitional services.
"New Avenues will welcome the child, help them settle in, and assess the circumstances that caused them to be there," Lintner said. "Within 72 hours the New Avenues and Youth Villages teams will work with other community partners to determine the supports needed to successfully transition the child back into a family setting."
Their emphasis will be on finding biological and foster care family placement.
Lintner said the services won't disappear once youth leave the facility. Specialists will visit three times a week and provide 24-hour crisis response for another four to six months.
The two nonprofits realized their complementary strengths and resources and joined forces with DHS in early 2017 to solve the longtime problem of unplaced foster youth.
The Oregon Health Authority and DHS decided they like the new approach and decided to invest in it, Lintner said.
DHS spokeswoman Andrea Cantu-Schomus said the collaboration was a "natural fit" and offers a unique, specialized solution.
Between Robinswood and partnerships with Boys and Girls Aid and Maplestar, more than 23 beds will be available to unplaced youth.
This, Cantu-Schomus said, will probably permanently abate the need to use hotels.
"We are proud to be part of this innovative solution for children who need our help in Oregon," said Andrew Grover, executive director of Youth Villages Oregon. "Our work is designed to not only provide for their immediate needs, but goes further to address the root causes of the troubles they face."
Sean Suib, executive director of New Avenues for Youth, said their immediate focus will be to provide short-term support. But, he said, their goal is to create longterm, lasting change.
“Young people need to be empowered and have a voice, and by listening to and partnering with youth and their community, we can help create the safety and permanence all young people deserve," he said.
In 2016, an average of 7,600 children were in foster care on a daily basis.
Cantu-Schomus said as of Wednesday, eight foster care youth were unplaced.
From Sept. 2016 to July 2017, their average length of stay was eight days.
"We’re excited about this new solution to a serious problem facing Oregon’s most vulnerable youth and proud to be coming together to make it happen," Lintner said.
For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 503-399-6884 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth