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VOA to house youth who break the law during rodeo week

SHERIDAN — There is a place in town that is filled with youth, open 24 hours a day and has few to no parents on site that could potentially be very busy this weekend with rowdy rodeo event attendees.

Contrary to what you may think, the Milestones Youth Home is no party, and they have once again contracted with the Sheridan Police Department to house juveniles who have been cited for violations of the law during rodeo weekend.

The facility, run by the Volunteers of America, is a 10-bed residential facility for youth, ages 10-17, that provides a structured environment in which a behavior management system is in place whereby youth earn points, privileges and independence in an effort to empower them to learn self-reliance for future success. Milestones also serves as a runaway and homeless youth shelter, which youth and families can access 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

One of the program’s lead mentors, Ben Wallace, said the facility houses youth for periods of time ranging from 72-hour cool downs to 30-day crisis beds and even longer stays through the jail release program.

“The 72-hour cool down period is at no charge to parents. It is a chance for kids to get away, them and their parents to rethink things and figure out where to go from there,” he said. “There could be many different scenarios as to why they need to stay here, including referrals from juvenile justice.”

However, during rodeo week, the facility — which has a campus across the street from Sheridan College — brings on additional staff and also serves as a temporary housing facility for youth picked up by SPD.

Director of Youth Services Susie Arnold said a partition is put up in a section of the facility to keep the confidentiality of the kids in the home intact. Minors dropped off at the home by the police are held until parents or guardians can pick them up.

“We employ separate staff starting Friday evening until late Sunday to watch the kids,” Arnold said. “We are a 24-hour facility regardless, but for this particular event we need extra staff and accommodations.”

SPD Sgt. Jeff Forsythe said the department has contracted with the VOA for the holding services for several years.

“If we cannot get a hold of a parent or relative immediately, that is where they go, but we do our best to rectify everything on-site,” he said. “If they are under 18, we can’t cite them and release them; we have to release them to a relative. And if we can’t get in contact with a guardian immediately, we have to be careful with the way we detain and house them once they are detained.”

Forsythe said that no one under the age of 18 can be housed at the jail unless they are charged with a felony, and in the past it has sometimes taken several hours for a youth to be claimed by a parent, which took an officer off duty during that time.

“The officers have to stay with them; they can’t just stick them in a room, so that took them off the street and away from the street dance during that time,” Forsythe said. “So now they can drop them off and get back to coverage.”

Fortunately, the use of the facility has dwindled in recent years, and though two youth were temporarily housed there during rodeo weekend of 2013, they were the only two reported cases of Minor in Possession — the typical citation that lands a youth at the house — that weekend.

“Curfew is still enforced, of course, so they could possibly be picked up for curfew as well,” Forsythe said. “But all this used to be a much bigger problem than it is now.”

Last year one minor was picked up for a curfew violation after being found in Kendrick Park Sunday at 1:04 a.m.

Parents should be aware of their children’s whereabouts and activities at all times, however, as crime has no time limit. For example, the earliest case of public intoxication during rodeo weekend was cited just past noon on Friday in 2013.

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