The program — known as the REACH (Resources, Education, Advocacy and Counseling for Homeless) Families Project — promotes positive mental health for children living in transitional housing or on the streets.
The children have diverse needs, many based on the sudden loss of familiar routines and surroundings, according to program manager Susan Goff Timmer. It’s a special form of pediatric trauma that always causes insecurity and, sometimes, shame. Without intervention, the effects can be lifelong.
“Many homeless children don’t understand what they are feeling or why they are thinking or acting a certain way,” Timmer said. “A lot of them have trouble with aggression, sleep, anxiety and trust. A significant number of them have anger issues or meltdowns.”
REACH fills a significant need in Sacramento County, where the homeless population has increased by 19% in just the past two years. The county estimates a total of 5,570 people — 12% of them children — are currently homeless.
The REACH team works closely with Mustard Seed and Bannon Street staff to identify the needs of children in their care, who range in age from 0 to 17. Services can include social skills groups, crisis counseling and mental health services, as well as screening for symptoms of trauma and victimization. They even offer yoga and connect families with social services.
“It’s very child-focused mental health care,” Timmer said. “The goal is to help them cope with what they are going through while their family works on getting back to normal.”
REACH is funded by the State of California Office of Emergency Services through the CAARE (Child and Adolescent Abuse Resource and Evaluation) Center, which provides care, teaching, research and prevention initiatives to treat children who have been abused or neglected. More information is online.