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'A safe space' — Cedars opening downtown drop-in center for homeless youth
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'A safe space' — Cedars opening downtown drop-in center for homeless youth

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The Lincoln nonprofit known for providing housing to vulnerable kids will soon offer something more short term — a downtown drop-in center for homeless and runaway teens.

Cedars will open its Youth Opportunity Center Feb. 1 in a former hair salon on South 13th Street.

“It will give an opportunity for kids who are in unsafe and sad situations to come in to get basic help, whether that’s food in their bellies, warm clothes, a telephone or use of computers,” said Jim Blue, executive director of Cedars.

Cedars staff have been working on the storefront for months -- painting, stocking bookshelves with Harry Potter and "The Swiss Family Robinson," collecting board games -- but the agency has wanted a homeless teen center for years.

First, the number of young people living on their own, or sleeping on friends' couches, appears to be increasing, Blue said. His staff estimated the new center will serve 750 separate young people annually.

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Also, many young adults and people in their late teens who are too old for foster care don’t feel comfortable seeking services and help alongside older adults, said Christina Lloyd, street outreach program manager for Cedars.

“So we want to make sure they’re provided a safe space, and whatever needs we can help them with,” she said.

Like hot meals five days a week. Or use of a washer and dryer. Or clothes, bicycles, bus passes and help applying for housing and jobs. Or just a place to sit down and check Facebook.

“That’s the only way some of them stay connected,” Lloyd said.

The center at 318 S. 13th St. will be more than a place to hang out. Its staff and volunteers will help guide teens toward more permanent living conditions, help them access community services and resources.

“For those kids who are ready to move beyond survival, this will help them get off the street permanently,” Blue said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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