Café Augustine Adds Housing Help to Its Menu

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Café Augustine, which for more than a year has operated a restaurant at the Newport Branch of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County, will soon offer a transitional housing option for its employees.

Café Augustine is in the midst of cleaning the property, 2125 Glenwood Ave., and performing minor renovations after taking possession of the building Jan. 1, said the Rev. Edward Brienz, executive director. The organization, recently awarded 501(c)3 status, is leasing the property from Steel Valley Housing for Youth.

At the transitional housing center, tenants will be able to stay six to 12 months, allowing them to build a tenant history, Brienz said. Rent will be reasonable so tenants can save money to establish their own households after they leave.

The transitional housing center will accommodate six or seven youths, Brienz said. Steel Valley Housing previously leased it to Mahoning County Children’s Services, which operated a home for juvenile girls there.

Café Augustine is working with city departments to make sure that the building complies with its intended new purpose. Because it was in use less than six months ago as a group home, Brienz said he is finding a “very smooth transition” for the property.

“It’s not for everybody,” he said. Many participants in the Cafe Augustine program already are in a “great place” with their families or foster families, but others need the option.

“This way we can take that burden off of their worry list so they can concentrate on their job and their life, and get away from some of those distractions that come with unstable housing,” he continued. All tenants will undergo routine drug testing. “These people are trustworthy,” he said, and the program wants to ensure that trust is well founded.

The café, which operates independently of the library, opened there in September 2015. It provides employment opportunities for youths age 16 to 24 who have been referred by organizations such as churches, juvenile courts and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

On Wednesday, City Council approved the transfer of $50,000 in Community Development Agency funds to Café Augustine from Oak Hill Collaborative, which had acted as its fiscal agent before securing nonprofit status.

“We’re really excited about it,” Brienz said. “It’s going to help us continue the program that we launched a year ago.” Since its launch, the program has worked with more than 90 young adults to acclimate them to a workplace environment and help them develop social skills, he said. Right now, 19 youths are employed at the café, which offers coffee and doughnuts made on site Monday through Saturday and that serves lunch weekdays.

In addition to fitting in from a utilitarian perspective – the library had the café space available – why Café Augustine appealed to the library as opposed to other potential members was its mission, said Heidi Daniel, executive director of the library system.

“The library has a similar mission of helping people better their lives and better their futures through education, through educational training, through educational resources, and that’s what Café Augustine is doing as well, so it matched up very well,” she said.

“We hope that the students who are going through their program benefit from having such close access to our resources,” she added. Some of the students participating have gotten involved with the branch’s teen-oriented programming as well.

She has received nothing but positive comments from library patrons regarding the quality of the food as well as “how happy they are the library is able to provide a home for this great social service,” she said,

The library has been a “wonderful” host for the cafe, Brienz affirmed. Students can go into the library and use the computers for, among other things, to take required state-certified tests for sanitation competence.

“The library is just a good place and a safe place. It’s a beacon in the community,” he said. “It’s just a wonderful partnership.”

Pictured: The building at 2125 Glenwood Ave. where Cafe Augustine will provide transitional housing for its employees.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.