Community & Justice Community Health Community Health & Safety Crossover Youth Homelessness

Repurposing a Shut-Down Probation Camp to Help Transition-Age Youth Thrive

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

In October 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to repurpose a Lancaster probation camp into a residential job training center for young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who have experienced incarceration, foster care, homelessness, or who are otherwise considered “opportunity youth.”

Since then, county leaders have been exploring how best to implement the transformation of the Challenger Memorial Youth Center, and how to pay for it. On Tuesday, April 6, 2020, the board took action to seek state funding for the project.

The LA County Probation Department and the Chief Executive Officer were tasked with developing an implementation plan and pilot program. The county also hired a consultant to help with the process.

The 220,000 square-foot facility sits on a 65-acre property in the Antelope Valley desert —- the northern-most part of LA County.

The age group of young people the vocational program will serve are particularly vulnerable to job insecurity and homelessness. The barriers to stable housing and employment grow larger for foster youth and those who have been involved in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Half of all young adults who age out of the foster care system experience homelessness or incarceration.

The youth who are parents will be able to bring their kids to live with them at the residential facility.

On April 6, the board of supervisors passed a motion from Supervisor Kathryn Barger to direct the CEO to act on LA’s behalf and advocate for the state to set aside $25 million over this fiscal year and next, to bolster the plans to overhaul Challenger.

The motion also directs the CEO to work with relevant county departments to choose and enter into negotiations with a non-profit to design and run the pilot residential vocational program.

The CEO must also draft recommendations, set an implementation timeline, calculate the program’s likely funding needs and options for where the money will come from, the motion says. The CEO must also return to the board in 45 days with an update.

Hundreds of people sent in public comments in advance of the meeting, praising the project as one that aligns with the county’s “care first, jail last” mission and the goals of the Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup.

“Criminalizing our marginalized youth only compounds and exacerbates the
harm they have already experienced, increasing their odds of dire struggle as
adults,” one commenter, Catherine Safley, wrote in advance of the meeting. “Our most vulnerable youth deserve our care and every opportunity to live up to their full potential. Giving them the resources needed to not only survive but thrive is an essential step toward fostering safety and peace in our communities.”