JOPLIN, Mo. —
Cody Galbrith said that by the time he was 20 years old, he had hit rock bottom.
Having been on his own since age 17, the Joplin High School dropout suffered from extreme anxiety and mental disorders to the point that he was unable to hold a steady job.
He said he lived in a tent for 18 months, taking showers using a friend’s garden hose. With what little money he scraped together, he bought a bottle of salad dressing and used it to make tree leaves edible.
“It was a bad deal,” the 22-year-old said Tuesday morning.
Galbrith was in attendance during a groundbreaking ceremony for a $650,000 expansion of apartments designed to help homeless youths.
According to Paula Baker, chief executive officer of Freeman Health System, Galbrith is not alone. Thousands of teenagers and young adults become homeless each year. She said 25,000 youths age out of the nation’s foster care system annually, and 25 percent of them become homeless, too.
Baker spoke during the ceremony Tuesday at the Ozark Oaks Complex at 3409 S. Schifferdecker Ave. It is administered by Freeman’s Ozark Center and houses the PATH program, which stands for Pre-Adult Transitional Housing. The services go beyond just housing, officials at the groundbreaking said.
During two-year stays at the apartment complex, local youths ages 17 to 22 who are diagnosed with mental health disorders work on developing independent living skills and interpersonal skills, and receive mental health services.
The PATH program primarily serves youths who have aged out of the foster care system, but it also will help others, including those supervised by the Missouri Division of Youth Services, homeless youths and those whose home lives are dangerous.
Services include basic life-skill building, personal finance assistance, housekeeping, interpersonal skill-building, decision making and stress management, high school equivalency preparation, postsecondary training or vocational education, prevention and treatment of substance abuse, and mental health care.
The expansion will double the number of apartments available, from eight to 16.
“The common thread among all of these young adults is that they have had little positive guidance — their path in life has not taken them in a good direction,” said Phil Willcoxon, CEO of Ozark Center. “A home is something many of them have never had. That is what we hope to change.”
Galbrith said that although he still is challenged by anxiety, his participation in the program was “truly a blessing.” He now owns a car, does odd jobs and has learned coping skills that help him deal with life. More than that, he said, having support from his case managers made him feel as if he had a family.
Emily Novlan, also a 22-year-old PATH graduate, helped to turn the first shovels of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony.
She said she had been on antidepressants since age 12, and she found it especially hard to cope a few years later when her parents divorced and she moved from Illinois to Neosho.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t leave the house for days,” Novlan said. “I became paranoid. I didn’t smile. I was like a zombie.”
Hospitalized three times, she found she was unable to get the support she needed from her mother, who had medical problems and trouble paying the bills.
“When I came here, I learned to be independent,” Novlan said. “Now my boyfriend and I have our own house, a blue one with white shutters in Royal Heights, and I work as a bank teller. I love it.”
The construction is expected to take about nine months.
THE PATH PROGRAM is funded by the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Missouri Housing Development Commission.