Ben Cleaveland

Contributed photo

Edith, 19, has maintained her own apartment before.

Now, months removed from a two-month stay in the Humility of Mary adult homeless shelter, there is a renewed urgency to keeping house.

"Now that I have someone telling me to do it, it's harder and it makes me stay on my toes," she said of the apartment the once-homeless teen moved into this year through the Bethany for Children and Families Transitional Housing for Homeless Youth Program.

Keeping an orderly apartment is among the simple lessons being offered by the transitional teen housing programs sponsored by Bethany in Iowa and Project Now in Illinois.

"We teach them some independent living skills," said Ben Cleaveland, the Bethany program's administrator. "We take them shopping. We get them signed up for a medical card. We get food stamps set up for them. If need be, we go to food pantries. Get clothing donations. (We teach them) how to make it on a limited income and still be successful in society."

Transitional housing is available through several places for the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, single teen mothers.

For unaccompanied homeless teens, only Bethany's five Scott County apartments, three of which house two teens, and eight Project Now apartments on the Illinois side are available.

Soon, Cleaveland said, Bethany will open an additional five to six double apartments in Davenport thanks to leftover money from a year-old federal grant.

The housing technically is available to teens 14-22, but Cleaveland said 17 is the youngest a teen can be expected to successfully transition to living on their own.

"We are hoping to transition them into a more stable environment in a couple of years," he said. "We do have some benchmarks that we use. That they have a couple of months rent saved, because they are going to have to make a safety deposit and have the first month's rent.

"You also want them out of living paycheck-to-paycheck, so they are not always on that literal edge, that they could lose their housing."

In the Bethany program that is just over a year old, one young woman stayed eight months, and two were ready to be on their own in half a year.

Cleaveland said the program has a waiting list of five.

Molly Nickerson, who oversees the transitional teen housing for Project Now, said that program puts a two-year time limit and has a waiting list of about 15.

Both programs have stringent oversight mechanisms. Bethany residents must have full-time jobs or be enrolled in school with a part-time job. Drugs and alcohol are not allowed.

Edith is glad for the support of the Bethany staff.

"This is my chance to show not only myself, but people who haven't given up on me, that I can do and I can do it by myself," she said.